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.