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7 Questions I Ask Myself Before I Blame My Doctor

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I’m stepping up to defend doctors.

When shit happens, we have a tendency to look for someone to blame. It’s human nature. With chronic illness, I see an overwhelming trend of patients blaming their doctors. Sure, there are some terrible doctors out there, but we need to stop generalizing. We want and need doctors on our team, and it’s incredibly counterproductive to foster a “patients versus doctors” environment. I’m pretty sure my doctor could kick my ass in a fight anyway.

It’s time to stop blaming the doctors by default. When I start to feel angry with my doctor, I ask myself these questions:

1. Am I recognizing how complicated my health is?

I am a great patient, but I also recognize I come to my doctor with a lot of weird shit. It would be great if she had all the answers, but I also get that she probably had never had a patient come into an appointment and say, “So, doc, I think I’m lactating. Like a lot. And I’m pretty sure that’s not normal.” Or: “So my little toe gushed blood for 36 hours straight.” 

2. Do I have realistic expectations for my doctor?

My doctor is not God. My doctor cannot grant wishes or perform miracles. My doctor is human. I don’t walk into an appointment expecting them to magically heal me.

3. Am I actually frustrated with my doctor?

Or am I just frustrated with the situation? Chronic illness sucks, even when you’re on good terms with it. Different symptoms can affect mood. Nausea makes me sad, pain brings out all the swear words, but mental fog and confusion make me straight up pissy. I’m usually confused enough that my insults aren’t even clever:

     Significant other: “I think this may be an overreaction.
     Me: “Well you’re an overreaction!” 

When I’m feeling the mental fog, I have to be really conscious of what I say and do, so I’m not taking that out on anyone else. I’m not always successful (sorry, Ryan…), but I can at least recognize and apologize when it happens.

4. Is the problem something I actually have control over?

If a medication doesn’t work or I have a bad reaction to it, that is not my doctor’s fault. How the hell are they supposed to know a certain antibiotic will make me throw up? All medication bottles come with warnings. Before any procedures doctors will often lay out the success rates and risks. If a surgery only has a 10-percent success rate, I cannot be angry with my doctor if it doesn’t work. They warned me. Even if it has a 99-percent success rate, I was still warned about the 1 percent.

5. Am I taking responsibility for the things I can control?

Am I practicing good self-care? Am I eating a healthy diet and exercising as much as I can regularly? I don’t have to like it, but I should still be doing it. I will be the first to admit I hate exercising. It’s like the seventh ring of hell in my world. When I’m at the gym, I’m the one with the face that clearly says, “I’m only here because a team of medical professionals has told me I should if I want maintain my mobility. Don’t misinterpret my being here as a love for physical activity.” Am I doing my best to maintain a healthy weight? Am I taking medications as prescribed? If my doctor advises me to see a psychiatrist, am I going?

6. Am I recognizing that at least some part of the problem could be emotional or mental?

I know lots of people who become defensive when a physician recommends they receive help for a mental illness or emotional difficulty. Just because a doctor suggests therapy may help doesn’t mean they’re telling you it’s all in your head. Let’s face it, we could probably all benefit from therapy. I have a lot of physical health issues. I’m not naive enough, though, to think my mental health doesn’t have an impact on my level of physical functioning. There is no end to the data indicating that poor mental health can aggravate physical health problems. Rather than getting angry at my doctor, I give their ideas a try.

7. Am I being honest with them?

If I am lying to my doctor (and yes, not telling them the full truth counts as lying), then I’m really not allowed to be upset with them. Doctors need the full picture to be able to help me as best they can. Don’t lie about how much you drink. Don’t lie about drug use. Don’t lie and tell them you’ll take your medication if you really won’t. It’s not worth it. We all have things we’re not proud of or are embarrassed about (see above. I f**king lactated. And not a small amount. Enough to make it awkward when you’re a freshman in college in a dorm with community bathrooms. Turns out breastmilk can have some serious projectile).

A “no” to any of those questions means I should take a deep breath and remember it’s not my doctor’s fault.

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Thinkstock photo by Ibrakovic

Originally published: February 4, 2017
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