Where Did You Get Your Medical Degree?

A good doctor is hard to find.

When I moved back to Georgia in 2015, I had to find a new cadre of doctors to replace the excellent doctors I had while a patient of the UNC Health Care system. My “new” hematologist and oncologist is Dr. Charles Nash, whose practice is in Gainesville, Georgia. Dr. Nash has an excellent bedside manner, possessing a good sense of humor. Dr. Nash has already seen me through a couple of rough patches of poor health. Most notably, he prescribed a treatment that helped me overcome, for the time being, the anemia of chronic disease which I had experienced for well over a decade.

You have learned well, Grasshopper.

As I was having my initial visit with Dr. Nash, I was filling him in on my medical history. As I have been chronically ill since the age of 16, my vocabulary has grown to include all of the proper medical terminology pertaining to my various illnesses. Without digressing too much, I will simply state that I’ve always been the type who reads reference books for fun. Thus, whenever I was handed a new diagnosis, I read everything I could find on the subject. Therefore, when Dr. Nash asked for my medical history, I began telling him everything from my sickly past and used terms like “pulmonary emboli” and “Descending colon.” Dr. Nash listened attentively until I was finished. Then, he asked, “Where did you get your medical degree?” This question was followed with a joke about how it took him 10 to 12 years to pick all of that stuff up.

Knowledge is power.

Ultimately, doctors are human beings. Their ability to facilitate healing is only as good as the knowledge they have to go on. It is a good thing to be attentive to one’s own body and to be proactive when it comes to healthcare. No, being proactive doesn’t mean that you google your headache into some terminal disease. Being proactive means you are mindful of everything that is amiss with your body and do not dismiss something as inconsequential just because it seems minor to you on its surface. You should note any pain or feeling of discomfort, being aware of its general location. You should also decide which adjective best describes any sensation of your pain you may have, whether dull, sharp, or shooting. You should note things such as your lack of  appetite or inability to sleep. You should be on the lookout for your mental health also. If you are feeling blue for more than a few days and start having disturbing thoughts (e.g. suicide), then you need to make a note of that as well. The more information you can give your doctor, the better job he or she can do in helping you get better.

Oh, a wise guy, eh?

In the end, your efforts might likewise prevent your doctor from embarrassing him or herself.  Going back to the time following my colorectal cancer diagnosis, I recall an awkward conversation with my talented GI surgeon. He was telling me what he was going to do to remove the cancer from my colon. He pointed to a diagram and said that they were going to cut out this part of my “poop chute.” Yes, he called my colon a “poop chute.” That term may adequately describe the function of the colon, but it doesn’t address the fact that the colon, which is about 5 or 6 feet long, has been divided into 6 parts that are location-specific. I somewhat sheepishly asked, “You are cutting out the Descending colon?” He paused his explanation for a moment, undoubtedly now slightly embarrassed by his verbiage choice when speaking to someone well-versed on the subject. “Uh, yes, the Descending colon,” he replied, continuing his explanation. I cannot recall ever having another “poop chute” moment with this doctor again. (Please allow me to reiterate that he is a talented GI surgeon. I owe him my life twice over. First, he saved me from colorectal cancer. A year later, he saved me when a hernia choked off the stoma of my ileostomy. The latter necessitated two surgeries.)

No, you won’t get a discounted bill.

I’m sure some view the services that doctors provide the same way they do the checkout at their favorite retailer. Certain retailers are now dedicating a few registers to serve as “self-checkout lanes.” I have heard people complain that customers shouldn’t be expected to do that since they are not employees of the store. The thinking is that since you are having to pay for the product, it should be someone else’s job to ring up and bag the goods. In like manner, some think that it is wholly the job of the doctor to find and treat their health problems. They believe that the doctor should figure out what is wrong with them just by looking at them and performing a few tests. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Your doctor doesn’t inhabit your body. His or her hands are tied when he or she goes into a situation blindly. Thus, the more things you leave up to your doctor, the longer it will be until you get to the bottom of what is truly going on. This will not only ensure that it will take longer to get a diagnosis, but that it will take longer to get the proper diagnosis. No, vigilance won’t get you a discount. Frankly, it shouldn’t. Even if a doctor is giving a diagnosis based off of the detailed information you have provided, he or she is the one who paid big bucks to get the education needed to know which medicine to prescribe, as well as the credentials needed to write the prescription for it. The doctor is the one who has to carry the medical malpractice insurance to protect him or herself against litigious patients. However, finding a good doctor with whom you can partner yourself is worth every penny you have to pay, even if it is much higher because of Obamacare. (Thanks, Obama!) After all, nothing is more important to your physical life than your health.