Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Oprah and Questions About Health

I turned to my digital video recorder to start watching the week of Oprah’s shows on wellness.  I was listening very carefully to her description about the symptoms she was having and the steps she took to find the cause of her problems.  If you didn’t see the show, she complained of feeling tired, gaining weight, heart palpitations and other symptoms.  She went to four doctors and they felt she had a heart problem.  She was on blood pressure medication and heart medication but it wasn’t taking care of the problem.  Where did she get her best counsel?  The viewers who watch her show!

The viewers sent e-mails saying that Oprah should have her thyroid checked.  When she went to the fourth doctor and asked abouther thyroid he said that would have been tested along the way.  She asked when it would have been checked and when the doctor went through all the records there was no indication that her thyroid had ever been tested.  Four doctors and no one thought about her thyroid…why?

The truth is that overwhelmingly (not all) doctors make their diagnosis within the first 20-30 seconds of your visit.  If that’s true how do we ever get a correct diagnosis?  How can you make sure that the doctor has the information they need to make the correct diagnosis?  Make the doctor slow down!  You might be wondering how that would even be possible, but let me tell you…you’re in the driver’s seat.  You can set the pace for the visit if you want to, want to know how?

The easiest way to set the pace is to regulate your own breathing.  There is a tendency for every system in our bodies to speed up in the doctor’s office that’s why so many people have “white coat syndrome”.  Once you slow your own breathing the atmosphere in the exam room changes.  Next is to stop the doctor and ask the doctor to allow you to tell the whole story.  A partial story can yield the wrong diagnosis.  I know this isn’t the time to share Buddhist philosophy with your physician, but a bit of beginner’s mind wouldn’t be a bad thing.

If asking your doctor to allow you to tell your whole story doesn’t work, asking questions will alter the pace of the visit.  When the doctor gives you their findings you might ask, “what else could it be”?  This gets the doctor to think of other possibilities.  You might also ask the doctor what other organs are it the vacinity of the problem they’re suggesting, just as a possibility.  It’s your appointment, your time to get the care you need; don’t get sidetracked by the eight minute appointment the insurer allows.

If Oprah went to four doctors, at the best medical institutions in the country with leaders in the field because she can pay out-of-pocket if necessary, what hope do the rest of us have of getting the right diagnosis?  It’s up to us to become our own advocates or at least find someone who can guide us through that process.  You have the right to a correct diagnosis.  You have a right to a doctor’s full attention.  You have a right to being seen and heard as an individuals not a set of symptoms.  H

How will you set the pace at your next appointment?


I've lived my life in service to others. I'm focused on mental health and how it impacts our relationships, culture, and society. Through creative expression and narrative I believe we can impact change.

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