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When a Doctor Didn't Respect My Boundaries

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I recently went for a vision test with a doctor I had never met before. But before I met her, I had the medical part of the eye exam. Honestly, the test where they puff air into your eye isn’t my favorite. As I was sitting down for the first test, I told the nurse about something that gets in the way of all my eye exams: my facial tics. I told her I have tardive dyskinesia and that it causes me to blink hard and roll my eyes a lot. She was understanding, didn’t ask me about it, and was accommodating when I told her I needed a moment to try to get my tics to calm down for a bit. After that was all over, I waited for the doctor to give me my actual vision test, the only thing I really went in for.

When the doctor walked in, we did what all new patients and doctors do. We exchanged pleasantries, introduced ourselves, and I told her why I was there. I mentioned that I was just there to get my vision tested as I do every year, and that I thought I needed my prescription changed. When she asked if I had any medical conditions she should know about, I told her about my tics, and her response was, well, unexpected.

Her eyes widened, she sat down, and said she needed to know everything about it. All I said was that my eyes rolled and blinked hard uncontrollably, and that I felt it may be impacting my vision. That was all that was necessary for me to explain. But she insisted I continue to tell her everything about it: what had my neurologist said, what was my plan with my other doctors, what was the cause, etc.

This all seemed very strange to me. She isn’t a regular doctor of mine, I went to her this one time and only ever intended to go this once (I have another eye doctor I prefer, but decided to go to her just for the sake of time), so she had no need to be looped in on what my treatment plan was for a movement disorder. And while I am always particular to ensure all of my healthcare providers know about all of my health conditions, this was irrelevant to just getting my vision checked.

I entertained her questions and answered them as concisely as I could, as I didn’t want this to become an appointment on my tics with a doctor who isn’t a neurologist. After she got done asking me all of the questions, we did the tests, she agreed that I needed my prescription changed, and that was it, for me at least.

As I was getting ready to get up, she sat down in her chair again and brought the conversation back to my tics. At this point I wasn’t frustrated, I was just confused and feeling a bit uncomfortable. But as she continued to talk, I realized why she had asked me all of those things in the beginning of our appointment.

She started off on a long tangent about holistic medicines, acupuncture, detox teas, activated charcoal, and even mushrooms. She was talking so fast and long, I was surprised she had any air left in her lungs after she was done. She told me the story about how a neurologist couldn’t help her with her back pain, but that a “holistic medicine doctor” did, simply by reading her fortune and recommending she consume activated charcoal for a couple of weeks. She told me it worked, and I just nodded my head.

Through all of this, never once did she ask me if I wanted her advice, or even if I cared (which I didn’t). I told her in the beginning that I was seeing a neurologist and that we had come up with a treatment plan in conjunction with my other doctors. I have a completely separate doctor, a neuro-ophthalmologist, specifically responsible for dealing with the connection of my movement disorder to my eyes. And yet, all of this seemed to be superficial to her. She had the “cure” for my tics, and apparently my other doctors just didn’t know what they were talking about.

Now, I want to take a second to clarify something. I am not attacking holistic methods of treating ailments. Sometimes pharmacology simply isn’t needed for treating things, and it is sometimes healthier for us to pursue natural remedies. However, there is a limit. Saying certain types of teas can help with headaches, muscle soreness, or insomnia is totally valid and scientifically supported. But saying that activated charcoal and palm reading is going to cure my movement disorder — that’s going too far.

For some, holistic, nature-based remedies are the only treatments they feel comfortable with, and the only ones they find effective. To those of you who fit into that category, I’m glad you’ve found something that helps you, no matter what you’re dealing with! We’re all just trying to get through life, and any way we can reduce pain or ailments along the way is good. But with this doctor, I noticed something I have encountered with many: she seemed to be belittling me for pursuing traditional medicine.

Just as it is great that people find relief in holistic methods, it is also great that others find relief in traditional medicine. We all need to do what we feel is right, comfortable and effective for our bodies and minds. And at the end of the day, that lies with each of us to decide. For me, I’m simply not comfortable relying on holistic remedies, and I haven’t found them effective, and I know there are others out there like that. And you know, that’s OK!

What isn’t OK, however, is going around crossing someone else’s boundaries to tell them their methods are wrong. This doctor knew why I was there; I needed my vision test. I didn’t need to be lectured on mushrooms and teas that could supposedly cure a neurological condition. I didn’t need to hear how stress is likely the only cause of my tics. I didn’t need to hear any of it. I understand she was trying to be helpful, but she wasn’t doing it correctly.

As patients seeking care, we have a right to look for ways to achieve remission/recovery. But for some reason, we have created a culture that is so dedicated to looking at one form of therapy and tearing it down because it isn’t ours. I get enough unwarranted suggestions about my tics, the last place I want them coming from doctors I don’t know who aren’t qualified for my conditions to contradict doctors who are qualified. Just as we have a right to seek care, we have a right to have boundaries as well, and that includes with my doctors.

Getty image by Vasyl Dolmatov.

Originally published: September 20, 2020
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