My father-in-law has a bit of a pointed story when you complain about a doctor to him – and it goes like this:
Q: What do you call the medical student who graduates at the bottom of his class?
It does have a bit of truth to it – although may seem a bit harsh especially if you’ve experienced the support of a skilled physician. But book knowledge is not what makes the physician, not even the tutelage or legendary beatings and beratings of their seniors. A good physician is built with the help of his patients and the driving instinct to ask the question “Why”.
Not so oddly, it’s the same question that brings you to the doctor’s office in the first place.
I went nine months without a proper diagnosis with only a single symptom – I was losing muscular control of my left eye. Two ophthalmic surgeons, in a single visit, determined it to be a self-limiting condition. And that’s where their curiosity ended. Mine didn’t.
I spent nearly five months with a neurologist who I was assured was highly trained, knowledgable and brilliant. On my first visit he determined I had “ocular myasthenia”. And put me through test after test which proved him wrong every time. And every time a test proved him wrong, he found another test to try. Until he ran out of tests and curiosity. And I remember saying to him, in the middle of the process, “You know, I had some serious problems with my sinuses just a few months ago…” He turned his back to me, raised his hand in the air in a halting gesture and said as he was walking out of the room, “This has nothing to do with your sinuses!”
He was almost deadly wrong.
The imaging CAT and MRI scans that were done didn’t completely answer the question. But on several of the reports, the interpreting physician pointed to a small area of activity at my basal skull. And although prompted by that radiologist, no referring doctor sought to find out what that was.
Finally, an ENT surgeon, having hit a virtual and physical dead end, admitted his frustration but sent me to someone he felt had seen thousands of cases similar to mine. He was right – this physician sat down with me on my first meeting with him, listened to my story without interruption, reviewed the binder of reports and stacks of images I brought him, walked me over to a cross-section illustration of the head, pointed and began, “There’s something going on here in your basal skull…”
I exhaled for the first time in months.
Confirmed with a small surgery less than a week later, a tumor was found in my basal skull, that because of its invasion, had been compressing a small nerve that controlled the movement of my left eye. Question answered.
I had seen some of the most reputable physicians in my area – ENT surgeons, ophthalmic surgeons, neuro-ophthalmologists, and neurologists. The arrogance of reputation and education may have been in the mix. But it was the lack of curiosity, ignoring the question of what else might this be, that limited them in a proper diagnosis.
Questions are what will get you to the physician, help you arrive at diagnosis, determine treatment, and eventually help you thru recovery. Cancer can be at once terrifying and frustrating. But what will get you thru, is ultimately, curiosity.
Never stop asking questions and never stop asking why…
[Image via Tom@hk at flickr…click on photo for full description…]
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