Why do I have to see so many doctors?

The human body is extremely complex. Each organ system is like an entire universe. Rarely does chronic illness affect just one part of the body. Think about your medical team in terms of football. Team Disease has many special players, each with their own unique offensive skills. You need a team, Team "Something -ologist" with specialists who know how to first defend against the attack and then go on the offensive themselves. If your entire team consisted of one quarterback you wouldn't stand a chance of winning. It is the same with chronic illness.

Your job in the game is to be the team manager. Once your "quarterback," or the doctor who is central to your care, tells you what team members you need, you go out and hire them. We'll discuss how to find good team members in Question 36. Over time you may add new members, replace members, or no longer have a need for others. A manager who has a winning team is always making adjustments.

Outside of assembling your team, you have another extremely important function. You are responsible for making sure all the members of the team are working from the same playbook. You are responsible for keeping all the team members informed about what the others are doing.

Why do I have to see doctors so often?

Healthy people usually see their doctors about once a year, a little more often as they reach advanced years. People with chronic illness may see their doctors as often as once a month! Why so often, if there is no hope of a cure? When you have a chronic illness, your disease might be stable for a long period of time or might become active in short order. Regular medical monitoring allows your doctor to catch changes early and take aggressive steps to bring problems under control. Even though you may be feeling better than usual or see no change in your condition, silent and symptomless damage might be going on. Your blood pressure could be elevated. Your liver might be experiencing stress and damage as a side effect of medications. Cholesterol[1] could be building up in your blood vessels. Your kidneys could be experiencing early stages of disease. None of these things has symptoms in the early stages. Your regular visits to the doctor can catch these and other things. Damage can be halted or slowed.

So, why don't folks with chronic illness want to see doctors? When you have chronic illness, a visit to the doctor is full of emotional undercurrents. Every encounter with the medical system is a graphic reminder that you are sick. Then there is the fear factor. It's not that you are afraid of the doctor, but you may be afraid of what the results of your last test will show, what new treatment might be required, what scary test or treatment might be ordered next, and that there will be more bad news.

It's easy to become an ostrich, stick your head in the sand, and avoid the whole issue by missing or canceling appointments. But the fear is still there, and the disease is still there. Just because you don't know about a problem doesn't mean it ceases to exist. You want the best life possible. You want to avoid complications. You want to see your doctor as often as your doctor recommends.

How can I find a good doctor?

Choosing a doctor is difficult. Like everything else with chronic illness, there is no simple answer. Ask your principal doctor what specialists he or she recommends and why. Ask friends and family members. Check with the American Medical Association. Look at their credentials. But sadly, you can do all these things and still not be satisfied with the doctor.

The doctor may have great credentials and a spotless record but be rude, inattentive, fail to look at or listen to you, or even be burned out. A doctor with lesser credentials may be just as qualified and might even take the time to treat you like a human being. So before you set out on your quest for a doctor, do some thinking about what you need and want in your medical provider. Personally, I am not above popping into a doctor's waiting room to see how many patients are stacked up and listen to their comments. It doesn't take long to know if the patients believe the doctor is worth the wait.

Take all recommendations from friends and family with a grain of salt. The doctor-patient relationship is very personal. The doctor will know the intimate details of your health and life. And because you see your doctors so often, you will get to know them as people too. Just as we have preferences in choices of mates and friends, we all have preferences for personalities in our doctors. Aunt Matilda might swear by Dr. Jones, while your best friend Karen can't stand him.

Take time to think about your preferences and needs in a doctor. Do your homework. Try the doctor to see if you are a fit. Give the relationship a trial period. And remember to use good communication skills and be very professional about being a patient. It's your job!

Take time to think about your preferences and needs in a doctor.

  • [1] A waxy substance found naturally in the body and necessary for some bodily functions. Cholesterol is also found in foods. An excess of cholesterol can cause buildup in the arteries, leading to hardening of the arteries and disease.
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