Don't Be a Pill
Women's Health, September 2006
You tripped and banged your shoulder while hiking over the weekend, and it still hurts like the bejesus. You're pretty sure it's just a sprain, but you figure you should have it checked out. So now you're sitting in a gloomy exam room, wearing a paper robe, reading a magazine so old that the cover story is J. Lo and Ben Affleck's wedding, and fuming because the doctor is running absurdly late and you were supposed to be back at work an hour ago. Doesn't she have any respect for your time?But wait a sec. Have you stopped to think about life on the other side of the stethoscope? We asked doctors what their days were like, and boy, did we get an earful. Listening to a couple dozen cranky, half- naked, and probably contagious people grouse about their ailments is not, it turns out, a formula for daily bliss. In fact, when doctors hang out with other doctors, one of their favorite topics of conversation—other than golf—is how annoying their patients can be. Read on to hear their biggest peeves and how to avoid them. If you stay on your doc's good side, you'll get gold-star treatment—and maybe even a lollipop.
KNOW YOUR MEDS
"The surest way to make doctors cringe is to tell them you take 'a little white pill,'" says Joe Mele, M.D., an internist with Cornell Internal Medicine Associates in New York City. Be specific. Some meds can make anesthesia hazardous. Others can interact in a way in a way that
renders one of them ineffective or even life threatening. Both aspirin and ginkgo biloba, for example, thin the blood, and your doc will want to know you're taking them before she performs any surgery.
Doctor's orders — Write down the names and dosages of your drugs— including over-the-counter meds, supplements, and medicated creams. And tell the doc if you have any drug allergies.
Doctors can't treat you effectively if they don't have full information. "Something you withhold can have serious implications," says Susan Richman, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale School of Medicine. Here's an (admittedly extreme) example: A pregnant woman was too embarrassed to tell her gynecologist, a colleague of Dr. Richman's, that she had genital herpes, so the doctor didn't prescribe a medication to prevent a flare-up. During delivery, the woman had a herpes outbreak that caused a brain and spinal cord infection in the baby, who was disabled for life.
People can be even more evasive about their mental health. "You ask if they feel depressed and they say no," says David McDowell, M.D., a New York City psychiatrist. "Then you ask, 'What do you do all day?' and they say, 'Well, I lie at home in bed with no energy and cry.'"
Doctor's orders Be candid about infections, smoking, drinking, drugs, and psychological and sexual history, even if it seems embarrassing. "Don't feel like you're Typhoid Mary," Dr. Richman says. "You're among friends."
STAY ON POINT
Diagnosing an illness is like solving a puzzle, and doctors must do it quickly. Give them only the pieces they need, says Brian Adams, M.D., M.D.H., a professor of dermatology at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. "A woman who has had a rash all over her body for a few years will come in and tell me, 'It's all over the place. I can't stop itching it when the kids come home and it's really frustrating.' The physician starts looking at his watch." Instead, tell him that your rash started on your chest and went to your arm, and that the sun soothes it.
Doctor's orders — Bring notes about when the problem started, how it has progressed, and what you've done to treat it.
DON'T PLAY DOCTOR
Yes, you can learn a lot on the Web, but 2 hours of Googling is not the equivalent of 4 years of medical school. "People will come in and tell me, 'My uterus hurts,'" says Susan Ward, a Milwaukee nurse practitioner. "I say, 'How do you know? It could be an ovary. It could be GI-related. It could be bladder-related. Unless you've developed your own brand of x-ray vision, you can't know.'" And sometimes the treatment you're sure you need is not the right one for you, says Anise Burki, M.D., a family practice doctor in Indianapolis. "Patients will say, 'My friend had the same problem, and her doctor gave her X and Y, so how come you don't give me X and Y?' That can be very trying."
Doctor's orders Read up on the treatments for your condition, then listen to your doctor's opinion and ask questions. If you don't like what you're hearing, don't harass the doc: Get a second opinion.
You've got a meeting across town, your doctor's still nowhere in sight, and steam's coming out your ears. Well, consider this: A busy doctor sees a couple dozen patients a day. "We're totally swamped from morning to the time we are out," Dr. Burki says. Then there are emergencies. "You can't walk away from someone who's in pain or in need: 'Stop bleeding, I'll be right back,'" Dr. Richman says. "Whatever it is [that's slowing things down], you should probably be grateful it's not you."
Doctor's orders — Book the first appointment of the day, or if that's not possible, call half an hour before your appointment to find out if the doctor is on schedule. Then be on time yourself—and if it's your first appointment, arrive 15 minutes early to fill out paperwork. Bring work or a book just in case.
BE FRESH- SMELLING, THAT IS
If you have a 5 P.M. appointment with the podiatrist and you've been on your feet all day, give them a scrub before you trot over. Your doc will thank you—no doubt not all her patients are that considerate. "There have been days when I was very glad I had a sinus infection," Ward says.