It’s not surprising that doctors are such imposing figures in our lives.
As children, when we’re just “a little bit sick,” mom or dad do something or give us something to make us feel better. However, when we’re “really sick,” and things are looking grim, we’re taken to the “DOCTOR.”
The doctor is known to us, to be a highly educated, well trained, experienced, professional, one who is no longer a mere human, but one who has taken on a god-like persona.
I remember my mom’s behaviour, during my doctor visits… it was weird! She would kind of gush over him! I guess she was comforted and/or relived by his wisdom, knowledge and perhaps decisiveness, but she’d get weird and hit him with words of praise, appreciation and gratitude. When we’d go home, she’d tell the neighbours how wonderful he was… and they would all agree “Oooooing ” and “Ahhhhing.”
Never did I hear my mom question him, interject her own thoughts or beliefs, or say much of anything to him… which was unusual for my mom! (When she was diagnosed with lung cancer, she didn’t ask a lot of questions, didn’t communicate her thoughts or wishes, or request a second opinion. Why? … because she didn’t want to “offend” her Oncologist.
I didn’t follow in my mother’s footsteps in this regard. When I became a mother, I was very pro-active and vocal with my children’s doctors and also with my own.
Through the years, I always remained engaged, asked questions, shared my opinion and if I disagreed with a treatment plan, I would confidently explain why, in the hopes of coming up with something, we could BOTH get behind.
Ahhh, but then life happens doesn’t it?
Lots of things get better with age… but our health isn’t usually one of them. And unfortunately, with ill health, we sometimes lose our confidence and we doubt what we know to be true, even about our own body’s. Our judgement becomes clouded.
Several years ago I had been going to my GP quite frequently… because I just didn’t feel well. I was always tired and constantly felt like I was “coming down with something.”
There were numerous complaints of fatigue, headaches, neck and shoulder pain, aching hips, sore joints, low energy, sinus issues, IBS issues, sore throats, you name it, I had it!
My GP, at the time was a lovely guy, who I liked and trusted. He had always listened patiently, sometimes ran a test, but usually said “It’s a virus, it will run it’s course.” And after a week or so of “couch time,” along with some extra vitamins and supplements, it did run it’s course and I’d feel better!
This one time though, he must have been been tired of hearing my complains (or just had had a bad day) and he responded (in what I remember as an exasperated and dismissive tone), saying… “Well… you know… women of a certain age just have to expect to start feeling all sorts of aches and pains….”
Did you just say that?
I remember some nervous laughter on my part and then I just kind of skulked out of there; embarrassed and feeling totally foolish. Not because of my apparently “imaginary” medical complaints, but because I had not realised that “I” had become a “woman of a certain age.
In that single moment, with that simple statement, he had dismissed every medical complaint I had ever made to him. He seeded doubt and an unsureness in my ability to know and speak confidently about my body and my medical issues.
He had boiled everything down to AGE, and sent me packing.
I never saw him again… instead I started requesting the one of the female GPs at the Surgery, but even then, only when absolutely necessary.
For over a year I ignored my ever present aches and pains, and shamefully and embarrassingly chalked them up to the fact that I was now “a woman of a certain age.”
It wasn’t until November of 2017 (when I was 63) that I was diagnosed at A&E with GCA and told by two doctors, that it was most likely brought out by an undiagnosed/untreated bout of PMR, years before.
Yup… all those weird, unrelated, off the wall symptoms, were textbook symptoms of PMR. Who knew?
Well move forward a few years; today I had the need to see a GP, again… I won’t bore you with the details, but guess who the only available GP was? Yup, you guessed it… the man of my undoing. The doctor, who with the utterance of a few words, had knocked me off my feet, and made me doubt myself.
I took the available appointment and decided I was going to confront him. I wanted him (no needed him) to know the impact his words had had on me. I would let him know how dismissive and condescending he had behaved towards me.
When we finished talking about my newest medical issue (related to the PMR/GCA of course!) I said, “You probably haven’t noticed that I haven’t been in to see you in a long time… and I think you should know why.”
He looked up from his notes… “Ooo, I had his attention, now!)
I reminded him that I used to see him quite often, for all sorts of unusual, seemingly unrelated aches and pains… I told him what he had said to me about “women of a certain age,” and explained how I felt he had been condescending and dismissive. I told him he had, with just those few words, knocked the wind out of my ageing sails….
He starred at me with a look of horror on his face and said, “Did I really say that?
I responded… “Yeah, you did.”
He apologised profusely and said he could not imagine ever saying that to anyone…
I told him that missing the PMR was forgivable, but that his words had made me feel like a silly, old, hypochondriac, who was losing her mind. And that for the longest time, I was sure all my medical problems were in my head… until of course I was diagnosed with GCA.
He looked stunned.
He again apologised up and down, thanked me for the feedback. He said that he had learned something very important and useful! He seemed genuinely sorry and somewhat gobsmacked by his own words.
Hmmm, I guess we both learned something… because when he apologised (for what may be the first time in my life, ever) I simply said, “Thank you.”
I didn’t try to shrug it off. I didn’t make light of it. I didn’t say “Oh, it’s okay,” or “Oh don’t worry about it, I’m sure you didn’t mean it…” No, today I gave my doctor long overdue, honest, open feedback (which he took on board) and I accepted his apology, with gratitude.
Wow…. closure feels good.