One size fits all?

Have you ever been a medical mystery? I’m talking about those patients whose symptoms fail to fall neatly into the diagnostic criteria for a particular illness. You go to your doctor feeling really ill, your doctor listens carefully to your woes and recommends a battery of tests to help with the diagnosis. Several days later, your doctor rings to tell you that all your tests have come back normal. You’re still feeling lousy and you’re meant to be pleased with this news?

I’ve found an interesting new blog written by A Country Doctor (based in the USA) which provides a refreshing look at illness. Today he discusses how the labelling of a patient can affect a patient’s response to an illness.

“Labels are good if they help you understand what’s going on, and bad if they lock you into some sort of fixed category where you either don’t believe you can get out or, perhaps worse, start to feel comfortable and liberated from your own responsibility for your life and health.

Receiving a diagnosis is never any fun but sometimes it’s almost preferable to not knowing what’s wrong. There’s little to recommend about being a medical mystery. The patient is suffering from very real symptoms yet nobody seems to be able to explain why and it’s not unusual for them to get to a stage where they begin to doubt their own sanity. Doctors these days have a large array of tests available to them to assist with a diagnosis. It seems that the days are gone when doctors rely on their own diagnostic skills to make a judgement. Today, tests are often ordered before an opinion is given. If the tests fail to show any abnormality, doctors generally take great pride in reassuring the patient that all is normal. However, from the patient’s perspective all is not normal if they continue to suffer from the original symptoms and are no closer to receiving help with the problem.

As the Country Doctor says “Somehow in the last generation of doctors, we seem to have lost our ability, or perhaps our perceived right, to give patients advice about their health; only if we diagnose them with a disease, or pre-disease, do we have something to tell them.”

Having been a medical puzzle myself for many years, I can assure you that it was a huge relief to finally receive a diagnosis. The missing piece of the jigsaw was found and suddenly my medical history made sense. My ‘label’ has not caused me to become fixated with illness, rather it has helped me to understand my condition more fully and to take responsibility for my own health. When I consult a medical doctor, it’s because I want to find out what it is wrong and receive advice on how best to deal with the symptoms. I think that doctors would do well to remember that not all patients have symptoms that fit the label and very often, these are the patients who most need their help.

5 Responses to One size fits all?

  1. […] • Blog: One size fits all? […]

  2. Baino says:

    Oops first again. It’s a Timezone thing – really. Fortunately I’ve enjoyed robust health but early in 1986 I was violently ill. Vomiting, sore, tired, still menstruating and confident that I had some awful digestive disease I was poked, prodded analysed and ultrasounded for a urinary tract infection and biopsied and analysed for some mysterious tummy bug. . The LAST test we did was a pregnancy test, I was on the Pill after all. It was an entirely different pregnancy to my first. Finally, my doctor did a blood test and announced that I was 13 weeks up the duff with ma bewfulls . . is it any wonder I’m a little sceptical about the ‘system’? It was a surprise alright but now . . a miracle! Bless his smelly socks.

  3. Bendy Girl says:

    This is an excellent post (as usual!) thank you Steph, I’m going to link to it now, BG x

  4. Grannymar says:

    Been there, was that etc. As you say Steph you really begin to think you are round the bend and imagining things. At one stage I wanted to scream Don’ just hear, please Listen!

    Thankfully now I have a great GP

  5. Steph says:

    Baino – LOL What a nice outcome to an illness! How on earth did you manage to get “13 weeks up the duff” on the Pill? 😉

    Bendy – thank-you! You’re making me blush 😳

    GM – it always make me laugh when doctors expect you to go away quietly when your symptoms/test results don’t fit a particular label. When tests do confirm a suspected diagnosis, you are advised on how to proceed but when you are an unknown quantity, advice is often minimal. Some doctors are wonderful at lateral thinking but sadly, many stick to strict protocol. If I got €1 for every time a doctor has said to me “we’ve never seen this happen like this before”, I’d be a rich woman!

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