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5 Reasons Your Loved One Might Get Upset With Your Medical Advice

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So, someone you love has an invisible chronic disease, you recommended a certain tea, supplement, exercise, or treatment, and your loved one got angry. Why? You meant well. You care deeply. Does this person not want to get better? Has this person become bitter? Is your loved one being duped by doctors?

No, no, no. Let me see if I can explain this and help bridge the gap.

Since my lupus diagnosis, especially during the first few months, I was bombarded with advice and recommendations. It quickly became overwhelming. It seemed everyone knew of a “cure.” Even though most of the suggestions were given with the best of intentions, it took little time for me to become short tempered. Here are the main reasons why:

1. Comorbidities. “Lupus rarely comes to the party alone,” is a phrase shared often. It also works for many other autoimmune diseases. In my case, I have systemic lupus, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, antiphospholipid syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia. Something that might work for one disease could be detrimental to another.

For example, the most common suggestion given to me was for ginger because of its anti-inflammatory properties. However, it also has the potential for depleting platelets, and my platelets were dangerously low for months. My hematologist told me I didn’t dare try ginger (or lavender) until my numbers came up. When I tried to explain that to loved ones, some listened and adjusted their thinking while others took it as a personal slight. All recommendations should be discussed with doctors first. If approved, they should be added one at a time and monitored.

I am happy to report my platelet numbers did come up to where I can enjoy yummy cups of ginger tea with lemon and honey, along with other herbal remedies. There are still some that need to be avoided, such as echinacea. My platelets are continuously monitored.

2. Snake oil salesmen. That term conjures up images of sleazy fly by night horse and buggy traveling salesmen from the wild west era. However, according to this article “A History of Snake Oil Salesmen,” the origin of the term comes from Chinese water snake oil brought to America from Chinese railroad workers who used it to successfully soothe aches and pains from physical labor. That snake oil was rich in Omega-3 acids with anti-inflammatory properties. Americans attempted to sell rattlesnake oil in place of Chinese water snake oil that did not have the same pain relieving properties. This practice evolved into all kinds of money making schemes involving mineral oil and other concoctions that went from harmless, but ineffective, to downright dangerous.

If you make a suggestion based off of an article you read, you are definitely not a snake oil salesman. The very fact you are trying to help your loved one proves your heart is in the right place. So where is the danger?

First, check the source. The author of that article might be legit or might be some know-nothing looking for attention. One clue is if the word “cure” is in the title. Eventually, we want to see that word used, but we want to see it from legitimate sources.

Second, the whole idea of using such articles to help maintain hope can lead to a false hope narrative that does more emotional harm in the long run. To build real hope, keep up the relationship by bringing over a cup of tea your loved can have and just talking about all kinds of things. Happy reminders that you value the relationship does much more to build lasting hope.

3. Medication side effects. Medications necessary for treatment usually cause nasty side effects, including but not limited to, mood changes. Even if your loved one’s mood is not directly changed by medication, other side effects such as weight fluctuations, rounded facial features, headaches, etc., will often do it. Be advised.

4. Lack of confidence. The moment my doctor said “lupus,” I was all over the web gathering data. If you’ve seen the article, chances are good that so have I – unless it’s hot off the presses from a trusted medical publication. Discussing medications and research can be great. Attempting to educate me on medications without a medical degree is condescending.

Also, the trend of sharing conspiracy theories about the medical establishment does a fair amount of damage to doctor/patient relationships. If you really have questions, offer to go with to appointments. I have memory issues myself and need an extra brain, set of ears, and tongue eager to ask legitimate questions to go with me anyway. Thankfully, I have support people who do that and help me clarify information.

If you feel your loved one should get a second opinion, then absolutely have that conversation. There are bad doctors out there and bad medical practices, but we need to keep things in perspective. It’s wonderful to ask questions and educate ourselves, all of us. We must be partners with our doctors to get real treatment. Most doctors want cures too.

5. Explanation fatigue. I did get really, deeply irritated when I had to explain to the 38th person why I could not have ginger when my platelet numbers were down around 20,000. Afterwards, I had some apologizing to do. Yes, it’s not fair to you. You just want to know. Please, try and see it from your loved one’s side. If you are person number 38 with the same suggestion, you might get your nose bitten off. Your loved one fighting this battle probably didn’t mean to take it out on you.

This is one of the reasons why I share my journey on social media. Then I only have to explain things a couple of times.

Allow me to end this with a personal experience that you may find a bit humorous. When I was still trying to work, a gentleman at the desk next to mine kept pressuring me to try his magic water. This magic water was in an unlabeled bottle. I tried to patiently listen. I tried to kindly turn him down. He wouldn’t take no thank you for an answer. In my head was this idea that for all I knew his magic water may have been his own urine mixed with water. There was no way on God’s green earth I was going to drink that.

My point is, of course you care deeply for your spouse, partner, sibling, or best friend, and would never, ever suggest magic water. But your loved one has probably had to deal with a ridiculous recommendation or two on this journey. It all gets to be this overwhelming white noise. I try to push it all into the background and distinguish between legit suggestions from people who do have a stake in my health versus those who really don’t care but want to be right.

Please be patient. Please continue to love us. You are needed.

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Thinkstock Image By: carlacastagno

Originally published: August 1, 2017
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