2 Wrongs and a Right
I struggle with anxiety. I was diagnosed with it when I was 14 years old. Add medical trauma on top of that and I am one big ball of nerves when anything goes wrong with my body. I struggle to look at things objectively and let my emotions and anxiety get the best of me most of the time.
Not every doctor is good at addressing medical trauma and easing the anxiety of the patient. Actually, I would argue that most doctors do a terrible job of this, at least in my experience.
Comparing 3 doctors' responses
This past weekend I was dealing with some nasty side effects from an antibiotic I was on because of a sinus infection. In addition to severe asthma, I have an immunodeficiency which means it is hard for my body to fight infections. So I start antibiotics at the first sign of any kind of infection.
This time, the side effects from the antibiotics were severe, and of course, hit on the weekend when I could not get in touch with any of my doctors. Through the course of the weekend, I spoke with 2 different doctors before being able to speak with my pulmonologist, who is a wizard at providing accurate information in a way that completely eases my anxiety in a way that no other doctor has ever been able to do. And it is all in the delivery.
How each doctor responded to my first problem
Problem #1: The antibiotics are causing severe diarrhea. Like, everything going straight through me.
Doctor #1: "Most patients do just fine with 5 days on these antibiotics, so if you can hold out for another day and a half, you should be good."
This is a perfectly fine answer, except that I am not "most patients." Based on the information she provided, I was not willing to just stop after a 5 day course.
Doctor #2: “We could switch your antibiotic to this one, it doesn’t cause as much stomach upset.”
Also a decent answer, but the one she recommended was a step down from what I was on and not guaranteed to fight the infection.
My Pulmonologist: “Research shows that 5 days of the antibiotic is just as effective as a 14 day course, so why don’t you finish the 5 days and then let me know how you’re doing? We can reassess and come up with a new plan if we need to.”
Technically this is the same advice that Doctor #1 gave, but the delivery of the information was vastly different. Instead of an anecdote about "most patients," my pulmonologist quoted research AND provided a follow-up plan of action. The former I did not feel applied to me, but in a different context, a 5 day course with a reassessment sounded like a much better plan.
Handling my second concern
Problem #2: It was not just diarrhea, I had blood in my stool.
Doctor #1: “Diarrhea isn’t a big concern with these antibiotics, but if you have severe stomach pain, blood in your stool, or feel like you’re getting dehydrated you should go to urgent care or the emergency room (ER).”
Sound advice, but anytime I hear a doctor suggest the ER It makes me feel like something could be terribly wrong. I know it is a standard answer, and a CYA answer at that, but for me, it sends off alarm bells. So, I ventured to urgent care where we heard from...
Doctor #2: “Let’s check your labs to make sure that you aren’t losing too much blood.”
Again, a good, responsible answer. But my alarm bells are still going off. What if something is terribly wrong? Then I will have to go to the ER, get more labs done, maybe need a procedure or an iron infusion or... You get the picture. Thankfully my lab work came back okay, but it still did not do much to quell my anxiety.
But then we get to...
My Pulmonologist: “It sounds like these antibiotics are really messing with your stomach, so I’m not surprised that you have blood in your stool. I would actually be more surprised if you didn’t. I’m not really worried about that, but if it continues, let me know.”
For the love! Why can’t all doctors be like this??? Granted, my pulmonologist has known me for years and is exceedingly familiar with my medical history, but these other doctors have the same amount of information given to them.
As soon as my pulmonologist said “I’m not surprised” my anxiety flew out the window. He normalized what I was experiencing, and even told me he thought it would be strange if it were not happening.
My doctor's approach eases my anxiety
The way in which information is conveyed can be crucial in how the patient understands and applies the information. In the first example, the same advice was given by 2 doctors, yet the delivery was very different.
In the second example, the first 2 doctors seemed concerned by my symptoms and suggested further action, while the last doctor said he was not worried about it at all, asked why, and suggested a follow-up.
I wish all doctors had the gift of speaking to their patients and easing their anxiety, but alas, only the really good ones have that ability.
Do your asthma doctors know how to ease your anxiety?
Have you had a similar experience with your doctor(s)? Let me know in the comments! I would love to hear how your doctors' words eased your anxiety or made it worse!
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