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Why I Said No to Yet Another Medical Test

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Recently, my doctor mused that it might be time for another colonoscopy. I was in the throes of a colitis flare-up, and though the bleeding had been transitory, she was concerned. Ill and exhausted, I teared up and refused.

Since I was 19, I have undergone a long series of barium enemas, anuloscopies, sigmoidoscopies, and finally, colonoscopies. Only one showed anything we did not already know about.

What they did accomplish was to disrupt my life, my emotions, and my budget. That was what I tried to convey to my doctor that day. What I said also applied when she wanted another cranial MRI to check on my multiple sclerosis. Over the years, there have been too many X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. I had reached a point where I could not endure another test, and I told my doctor why.

First, because I live in a very small town, getting these tests done means travel — often three hours or more, one way. It means resting the day before, spending a day traveling, waiting, and enduring whatever test is required, and then resting for a day or two afterward. Sometimes, it means finding someone to drive me home after necessary sedation.

Then there is the expense. Even the best insurance in the world only covers a portion of the cost. Knowing I will be getting a bill for hundreds of dollars is disheartening. The cost of gas, and often a meal, only adds to the financial impact.

The most difficult part of these situations for me, though, is the lost hope. Hope is a good thing, and when I am asked to undergo another test, I cannot help hoping. Maybe this time, I think, they will find something they can fix, or at least treat. Maybe there will be a solution this time. Maybe something good — anything good — will come of this particular test. I know from experience that such things
almost never happen. Most of the time, the results are unsurprising and unhelpful. I also know that doctors can become very impatient if I refuse to schedule an exam, so I usually do. That day in the doctor’s office, though, I just couldn’t face another colonoscopy, and all that it meant.

No one wants terrible things to show up on a medical test. What we do want is to know what is causing our symptoms — and a negative test result doesn’t help with that. I refused to have yet another colonoscopy because I didn’t believe it would be helpful, and my doctor was noticeably irritated, asking why I bothered to see her if I wasn’t going to do as she advised.

I wish doctors understood the impact of all those tests. I wish they felt the pain of hope that is once again disappointed, the cost of the medical and travel expenses, the discomfort (to put it mildly) of the tests they order. I wish they could understand why we sometimes do not want to go through another test or exam, as much as we want our
symptoms to be treated appropriately.

More recently, my doctor sent me for another MRI. I went, because I was afraid to say no in spite of the expense and inconvenience. The results were unsurprising, even though the symptoms were severe and ongoing. The disappointment and loss of hope hurt — but there is no test for that.

Originally published: September 14, 2019
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