A Modern Survival Guide Interlude

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#1: Be Honest

The trouble with talking to another human is that most of us lie as fast as we breathe when we feel threatened, judged, or on the spot. You are, almost by default, going to feel all of those things in a doctor’s office. But good treatment depends on you telling them exactly what’s wrong, without leaving things out or making things up.

#2: Be Specific

Describe your problem in the closest possible detail. Look up medical terms for things where necessary before you go in. Keep talking even when the doc starts to roll their eyes or yawn — remember that they’re on your time, not the other way around. I can’t count the number of times my treatment changed because of some random detail I mentioned five minutes into the “what’s wrong with you” conversation.

#3: Ask Questions

Never, ever be satisfied with the explanation given. Ask all the questions that occur to you, every time. If nothing else, ask “how does that work?” whenever a doctor is describing a treatment.

#4: Act Your Symptoms

It is a simple fact of psychology that unless someone is acting the way we think they should in an emergency, we’re going to assume there is no emergency. You have to apply this to medical conversations.

#5: Avoid Drug-Seeking Behaviors

Addicts exist, and maybe you are one. If you are, I advise you to seek treatment, and good luck to you. If you’re not, you really do not want to come across as an addict in a doctor’s office. That’s an easy way to get ignored, sidelined, or under-medicated — medical personnel sometimes do not react well to addicts. Remember that your doctor is human, with human prejudices.

#6: Know That Your Health is Your Problem

When I was fourteen or fifteen, a family friend died because she trusted her doctor’s office to schedule a prompt follow-up appointment for her melanoma diagnosis. They decided to schedule her for a follow up… six months later. She didn’t question this decision. Her cancer metastasized, and she died shortly after her follow-up appointment. It was a formative experience, and it taught me a lot about how the medical profession views you, the patient.

#7: Be Brave

What all of this means is basically that, although we live in an age of medical miracles, the person who is most likely to save your life is… you. But that’s a pretty serious burden. So a big component of talking to doctors is to stoke up your own personal bravery.

#8: When in Doubt, Ask the Nurses

If you need to get the serious skinny on what’s going on, find the nearest nurse and ask them. Nurses usually know almost as much as the doctors after a few years’ experience, they tend to have a lot of front line experience dealing with patients, and they can usually point you in the right direction.

Post Mortem

It may sound like I’m being overly harsh on doctors, and I probably am. But look at it this way: there are only a few people in your life who can screw up so badly that you die. Guess who is at the top of that list?

Searching for truth in a world focused on belief.

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