Yes, these days when I leave the consultation room after appointments with either my consultants or my GP I feel I have been heard, believed and given the best professional help available. Now, whilst I understand that your average person may not feel this is worthy of such a reaction of delight, because one might reasonably assume that this would not be too much to expect from a medical appointment, for many a ‘loopy’ this is often not the case.
Thinking back I literally get a shiver down my spine when I remember certain medical consultations. Other memories simply enrage me. There were numerous problems: feeling rushed, feeling that the doctor was distracted (one GP even took a personal call on her mobile in the middle of my consultation, so I sat there trying to come to terms with my new chemotherapy drug regime I was on, while she merrily planned her social arrangements for that evening with a friend!) or otherwise feeling the medical professional I was consulting was clueless about my condition. Feelings of intense frustration were also commonplace, especially when I was for a time undiagnosed after being diagnosed, only to be finally and satisfactorily diagnosed once again. But the worst thing of all I felt during these inadequate consultations was disbelieved.
When have enormous respect for someone because of their professional capacity, if they appear to doubt you, it is easy to doubt yourself. There were times when I started to believe that maybe I was just a hypochondriac as the attitude of certain doctors seemed to imply; maybe I was just imagining the headache and making a fuss about the other symptoms. It is odd to feel grateful for a seizure or for finding oneself unconscious in Intensive Care, but in some ways it did me a favour – it vindicated me, it got doctors to take me seriously and it confirmed once and for all I was no joker.
Having given the matter much thought, I have realised that there are a number of barriers which give rise to unsuccessful medical consultations and that blame lays at both the doctor and the patients’ door. I believe there are very few doctors who are truly ‘bad apples’, but there are a some whose bedside manner leaves much to be desired and rather more than there should be whose knowledge of lupus if very limited. This doesn’t have to be a problem unless they are one of a significant number that is dangerously constrained by professional ego. An otherwise decent doctor who is not fully au fait with the condition but who is open to learning is one thing, but one who is ignorant and arrogant is quite another; they can be very patronising and even dangerous. I have come across them all over the years.
Still, I recognise that patients can also make matters worse for themselves. Unless we allow ourselves to accept in our hearts that lupus is unpredictable, difficult to read and currently incurable we can go into our appointments expecting our doctors to be magicians who ‘wave their magic wands’ and instantly prescribe us the answer to all our problems. Sadly, the truth of the matter is there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to treating lupus and doctors have to be given a bit of leeway. When I found a consultant that I felt respected me and was constantly endeavouring to try and help me find a way forward, I accepted a lot of what we had to do together medicine-wise was trial and error. Nothing he could do or prescribe was going to be perfect and provide a complete cure without side-effects, but with much ‘tweaking’ here and there, we were going to find the best possible solution.
This requires good communication which is another thing vital to getting a positive outcome from meetings with your doc. There have been times when I have had so much invested in a particular medical appointment, been so emotional and felt so much of my life rested on it that I have gone in and (quite uncharacteristically) found myself nervous, freezing up, forgetting to mention some of my key symptoms and to ask all my questions. I essentially turned into a passive, simpering ‘yes’ puppet! Realistically, when I was like this, how could any doctor be expected to deliver what I wanted and needed?
So what can we do to avoid these hellish experiences and start getting the best from our contact with the medical professionals? I have turned some of the things that I feel have helped me into the following list of tips
- Have all the relevant information about YOUR medical history to hand to help enlighten doctors you are meeting for the first time and to validate what you are telling them (recently, in an appointment of mine, a copy of recent blood tests, an old MRI scan and a letter from another consultant proved very handy)
- If you are going to a medical professional whose specialism is not necessarily lupus (e.g. A&E department, a GP) it can be handy to have some general information on the condition
- However infuriated you feel ... never get angry. This is guaranteed to piss-off the doctor, who will instantly write you off as ‘neurotic’!
- Be persistent
- If it’s not working, CHANGE doctor or ask to see someone else. A lot of people don’t seem to think this is an option, but it is and you can. It may mean a bit of compromise like travelling a bit further, but believe me it’s worth it. After suffering a GP-practice-from-hell I switched to a GP-practice-from-heaven and haven’t looked back. Why I didn’t do it sooner amazes me ...