If you’ve had a chronic illness for any length of time, chances are you have a team of doctors. If you’re new to this game, here’s a list of doctors that might be added to your team, and some you might want to look at inviting to your team, and what they do.
Primary Care/Internist – first and foremost person on your team
Endocrinologist – hormone imbalances, endocrine system
Rheumatologist – joints, muscles, bones and sometimes other internal organs (e.g., kidneys, lungs, blood vessels, brain)
Dermatologists – skin issues
Hematologists – blood work abnormalities
Cardiologists – inflammation around and in the heart
Psychiatrist – prescribes psychiatric drugs
Therapist/Counselor – talk therapy
Homeopath – looks at your body, how it’s responding, suggests supplements
Nutritionist – suggests diets and food choices
Yoga/Tai Chi Instructors – gentle oxygenation exercises
Energetic Healer – energy clearing to keep you balanced
It’s important to know how to talk to the doctors and healers on your team. They all need to know slightly different things about how you’re doing. It’s up to you to give them that information. You must be your own best advocate.
The types of doctors vary by which facility you are in. This affects their goals and bedside manner. How they act toward you is not necessarily good or bad in a medical sense. I mean, if they hurt your feelings by being a little rude, but they are the best surgeon in town and save your life, you’d probably forgive them.
I haven’t listed an Emergency Room doctor on the list above because it’s hard to count on ever seeing the same one twice. That can make them feel like less of a personal team member to you. You don’t ever know who you’re going to get when you go in and it’s not really a high priority in that moment, but still, you interact with them, so in a way, they are still an important part of your team. If you’re in the Emergency Room, those doctors have one thing in mind – are you dying? Do you need immediate attention to save your life? If yes, what can they do to solve that problem. If no, where can they send you to get you out of their way so they can look at the next person who might be in critical condition. That’s what’s so wonderful about them. They are focussed and ready to do this really traumatic task of helping the most injured humans day in and day out.
All the questions they ask you are to get you fixed up and out of the ER as quickly as possible. They will speak to you quickly. They will look distracted. They are not there to make you feel comfortable or hold your hand. If you’re looking for those things, you’ve come to the wrong place.
What they need from you are facts, plain and simple, and as quickly as you can give them. The less editorializing you can do, the better.
For example, let’s say you are having severe stomach distress and you don’t know why but you are at the point of almost passing out from pain. The doctor will ask you what the problem is. If you try to put on a brave face and tell them your stomach is kind of hurting but you don’t really know why, this is not going to be helpful. They will ask you to rate your pain from 1-10, 10 being the highest and you might think, well, I’m not dead and dead would probably be 10, right? So, 4? Listen, don’t be a hero here.
The better answer is to say, “I noticed an ache about here (and that’s where you actually point to where it hurts) around 7pm tonight. That’s about an hour after I ate dinner. It got really bad about 2 hours ago. I haven’t vomited or had diarrhea. I can’t sit up straight. The pain is about a 9 out of 10. I think I might pass out.”
You’ve just given the doctor a bunch of helpful facts to work with and what she doesn’t know, she can quickly identify and ask you. (What foods you ate, do you know if you are allergic to any.) You didn’t cloud the story with any of your feelings about having to be in the emergency room (you’d be surprised at how many people (myself included) say they are sorry a bunch of times at “wasting the doctor’s time” when really, that’s what they are there for) or about trying to pre-diagnose what you think it might be, which is something a busy doctor doesn’t have time for.
I mean, if you already know you’re allergic to shellfish and you ate shellfish, THAT’S your leading story when you get in the emergency room, right? Help! I accidentally ate shellfish and I’m allergic! But if you’re just guessing at what might be hurting your stomach or your cousin told you something hurt his stomach one time and you think it might be that, don’t bring that up initially. Let the doc do her work.
Next up, we have Urgent Care. Similar to the Emergency Room in that they are busy bees with a very clear goal in mind – let’s get ‘em in and move ‘em out. You may have been referred there by the emergency room because you are in distress, but not in enough distress to warrant an actual emergency.
Urgent Care doctors are trying to evaluate what they can do for you that can’t wait for a regular doctor visit during regular doctor hours. They may be brusk and busy, but the staff is generally much more warm and friendly than in the ER. That is simply because they have more time to help you and fewer life-threatening things happening around them.
Speaking to an UC doc will be similar to an ER doc. You can editorialize a bit more at your own risk. It’s a bit of a hit and miss situation, depending on who’s working. They will probably prefer and appreciate the more sanitized and fact-filled version of why you are there and if you can stick to it, all the better.
They will want you to have a follow-up in the near future with your primary care doc, anyway, where you can editorialize to your heart’s content.
Primary care doctors are there to listen. This is the doc you share your hopes and dreams with. If your doc is not someone who cares how you feel and doesn’t let you ramble a little, you’ve got the wrong doctor.
Sure, they appreciate the facts just like any other doc. Their brains went to the same schools, had the same training, learned to isolate what will help them diagnose and what won’t. Their goal is the same as any other doc – fix the problem.
You go in there, tell them the straight facts, let them look at it all intellectual-like, and then go ahead and spill your guts. Ask a ton of questions. Show your insecurities. Ask some more questions. A good primary care doc will not make you feel bad about any of that.
When we are little, we learn to listen to authority. Doctors are authority. When they tell us, with all of their confidence after years of schooling, that we should do one thing or the other, we’ve been taught to listen and obey. And why wouldn’t we? They should know.
Being your own health advocate means listening to everything, taking it all in and then making your own decisions about what is best for you. I had a doc ask me once why I even came to him, if I wasn’t going to do as he suggested. I told him it was because I trusted his opinion, but I trusted mine more. That didn’t make his wrong. It just made mine more right – for me.
Learn to take a file with all your test results from all your doctors to every appointment you go to. It helps so much to be able to pull out a test you took two years ago to compare with something you just did.
Don’t expect your primary care doctor to understand the connection between food and illness. Very few do and those that do had had to learn it on their own time, which means they don’t know much. It’s up to you to figure out on your own or with a nutritionist you trust. (Better, read this book.)
Doctors that end in “ist” are special(ists). This includes your Endocrinologist team, Rheumatologist, Dermatologist, Hematologist, Radiologist, and Cardiologist. You may not have all of those people on your team and may not need them all, unless you are ill for a long time and need a lot of blood work or x-rays, or have arthritis and/or skin issues.
It costs a lot to see them. They consider their time to be very valuable and so keeping things more to the factual side and less on the editorial side is advisable. In my experience they do not appreciate when you don’t heed their advice and take it more personally than other types of doctors. So, if you feel strongly about something, stick to your guns so you don’t regret it later. Just know what you’re up against.
Your Psychiatrist, if you have one, is not your therapist. She may listen to you to find out if you’re sleeping well or eating well and check on other body functions and how they interact with medications. She wants to know if you’re feeling more or less depressed than the last time you saw her. It’s a chemical game for them. Less interested in the talking part, unless it’s directly related to how the chemicals are balancing in your system.
Having a Therapist or Counselor is awesome. I strongly believe that anyone going through so much hard stuff healing from a chronic illness, or just experiencing the difficulties of life, should be talking to someone impartial and supportive on a regular basis. This stuff can be really challenging!
While some people might have a friend or family member that can fill this role, chances are you could benefit from the training a therapist or counselor has gone through to help you through this time. And it can actually get really hard to always be the “supportive person” in a chronically ill loved one’s life. Consider that your friends and family may need to change that relationship with you, or at the very least get a break from always being the one to listen to how hard things are in your life. You need sincere validation with a background of helpful knowledge and maybe it’s time to get it professionally.
Your Homeopath will do things like look at your tongue and want to analyze your spit. They’ll seem strange at first but they are coming at your health from a whole different angle and it’s an important one.
The theory of homeopathy is that your body has the power to heal itself, if you can support it in doing that, and if something makes you sick, perhaps just a tiny bit of that thing will help you get over it and get well. Kind of like immunizations.
Every homeopath I’ve ever gone to has used muscle testing to find out if my body really wants to take the supplement or “potentiated solution” that they recommend for my ailment. Many times I choose not to take the supplements they suggest until I try to use food as my first line of defense, but I find the information very valuable.
A Nutritionist is trying to look at your body from the outside, see what you’re putting into it, check your medical file to see how you’re feeling and then make a determination about if the way you’re eating is working for you. I think about half of what a nutritionist has to say is relevant to me, but that half is usually worth the time. They can see holes in where what you’re eating is lacking in something important nutritionally for your system.
Unfortunately, the nutritionists I know currently are still very much stuck in the refrain of “eat low-fat dairy” thinking, and I know that’s not good for me, so I take everything they say with a grain of salt.
Yoga and other energy modalities are a necessary part of moving the old out and getting the new in. When we talk about balancing our energy, there are no better ways to do that than getting hands-on healing from a Reiki master or getting cranial-sacral work done. Daily practice of yoga or Tai Chi to keep the energy flowing through you until you see them the next time and sets you up for healing on an daily basis.
Make sure you are doing exercises that fit well within your comfort level for where you are in your journey. Moving up to more strenuous activities is not recommended until you actually feel impatience in your muscles to do so. If you’re exhausted after doing exercise and it takes a long time to recover, know you are not healing and choose some other activity.
There are other healers out there like chiropractors and acupuncturists. I recommend trying anything that feels good.
Practice Something Good
Practice talking to your doctor in the mirror the day before your appointment and bring up all the things you want to say. Make a list of bullet points to cover and walk in feeling prepared. Make a habit of always taking along a notebook and pen so you can jot down the docs answers.