Ever notice that before your diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness you were a much better patient? It’s possible that’s because you only saw the doctor when you were sick, in need, and you knew it was probably a one-shot deal. You could exchange pleasantries during the annual physical, but there was no dependency or tension.
What came next took you and probably your doctor by surprise. The idea that your body was hiding something that is harmful is always a shock, especially to primary care physicians. They are the first stop on the run-away train. Primary care physicians are the ones who sit by your side trying to figure out what’s the problem and then when something catches their eye you hear the words, “I’d like to refer you to a specialist”.
Once the doctor, whether it be your primary care physician or the specialist, utters the famous line, “I’m sorry to tell you…” then the doct0r-patient relationship changes. At the start the doctor-patient relationship may be adversarial, after all who doesn’t want to shoot the messenger. The hope is that over time it become collegial. Let’s face it, working as a team will be more productive on your journey to health and healing.
But let’s go back for a moment because being a “good” patient before you got sick was more about hedging the odds, kind of like the insurance industry betting you will get sick and you betting you won’t. It’s easy to be a “better” patient when your visits are infrequent, there probably aren’t many if any billing issues, and the biggest discussion is about exercising more, maybe losing a couple of pounds, and getting rest.
All of that changes with a diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness. Our healthcare system has forced too many to have to deal with outrageous medical bills. (Medical bills are the number one reason people declare bankruptcy) Billing often causes tension between the office staff and the patient.
Then of course are the issues related to treatment. As your doctor gets the test results and makes recommendations, the doctor-patient dynamic is changed. It’s no long simply taking the recommendations and making an appointment for the following year. The test results and the recommendations now bring you and the doctor into deeper discussions, not only about treatment and the course of the disease, but heart wrenching topics like end-of-life care.
It’s easy to see why you, the patient, may become gun-shy, maybe a bit angry or hostile, and on the other hand you may retreat and be sad. Understanding that your relationship with your doctors is no longer simply routine, but an ongoing and more intense relationship must be reconciled in your soul. The two of you are together for the duration.
I hope you’ll take a look at the relationship you have with your medical provider because now is the time to take action if you feel things need to change. It’s no longer simply about cutting red meat out of your diet, and the ante has been raised. This is one of those moments when we have to remember, “Life isn’t the way it’s supposed to be; it’s the way it is”.