Hey there, Spoonies. So, as full time sick-people, we spend a TON of time waiting around for doctor’s appointments and then being disappointed by a 10 minute ordeal that didn’t answer a single one of our questions.
Unless you’re seeing a very thorough specialist or a kindhearted naturopath who has set aside two hours for your appointment, then you usually only get 15 minutes of face-to-face time with your doctor. Yes, the system sucks, but there are some tips and tricks I’ve learned to help make my appointments more efficient. So, here are some ways that you can get the most out of your next medical appointment:
1. Be proactive & prepared:
There’s nothing worse than walking out of an appointment and realizing that your doctor didn’t answer any of the questions you had. We can’t blame it all on the doctor, though. Here are some ways to up your efficiency game at the doctors:
- Write down your top 5 questions in advance and bring the paper with you. Think to yourself “what questions do I need answered in order to feel like this appointment was a success?” and make sure they get answered before your doc runs out the door.
- If you have a long or complicated history of illness, make a timeline marking any major events that are relevant. For example, my mom made a timeline of my whole life from birth to age 20 (because I had life-long health problems), and she marked some major events like a car wreck, a broken bone, emotional traumas, the year I had viral infections like mono, and the years that certain major symptoms started. (Shout-out to my Mom!)
- If you have widespread body pain, draw a body diagram of where your pain is and be specific about level of pain in each place (some intake paperwork has a diagram like this already on it, but if they don’t just make your own.)
2. Understand the lingo:
There are certain terms and scales that doctors use to describe your symptoms and pain levels. The rough thing is, they don’t usually let the patients in on these details and saying one wrong thing can land you with a misdiagnosis or a lack of proper help.
Recently, I saw a post from a fellow blogger about how to personalize your pain scale and it made me realize how distorted our understanding of pain can be, because as Spoonies, we are used to being in pain so often that we may not even notice it anymore!
But we need to realize that continual PAIN IS NOT NORMAL! When a healthy person might write down that their headache is a level 6 on the pain scale, a Spoonie who has chronic migraine might write down that her pain feels like a 2. Comparatively to her horrible migraine attacks, this headache might be a 2, but compared to a healthy body, it’s at least a 6 if not higher! Because we normalize our pain and exhaustion, we often shoot ourselves in the foot by underexaggerating our pain at the doctor’s office. So here are some tips:
- I know it’s hard, but try to imagine what it would be like to be pain-free (it seems impossible, right?) and then compare your pain level to that when using the 1-10 scale.
- Don’t be afraid that the doc will think you’re overexaggerating your symptoms, and be honest with him. If you feel so horrible that you want to cry, then cry a little. It’s amazing how far a few, honest tears can go during an appointment. It can help doctors see you as a real, suffering person, and not just another number on a page. A note of warning from personal experience: a few glistening tears is good, but don’t let yourself get hysterical or they might think you’re crazy. Just saying.
- Also, make sure to describe your pain and other symptoms in detail
- When describing pain, use words like: shooting, aching, gnawing, cramping, hot/burning, tingling, or stabbing. Just saying “it hurts really bad” doesn’t give the doctor enough information.
- When describing other symptoms, get specific: there is a difference between “fatigue,” “sleepiness,” and “weakness.” Figure out which word(s) best describes your problem and write them down to help you remember.
- Use numbers, percentages, and concrete ideas when talking to your doctor. For instance, if you say “I’m exhausted all the time” the doctor may not know what “all the time” really means. Instead, say “I feel fatigued and exhausted 80% of the time I am awake during the day. And I have to take a 2 hour nap every afternoon just to function at all.” These details give the doctor a context to work with because one person’s definition of “exhaustion” may be very different than other person’s.
3. Stay on task:
What is your desired outcome for this specific doctors appointment? I know it’s tempting to throw your hands up in and air and say “Can’t you just make me feel better, doctor??” but unfortunately, doctors are not magicians. They are just humans with a lot of schooling under their belt.
- Most traditional M.D.s will get overwhelmed with your large list of seemingly-unrelated symptoms and they will start to glaze over. So, it’s best to list all of your symptoms on the paperwork, but steer the conversation towards the direction of your top complaints only.
- It is your health that is at stake, so it is your job to corral the doctor to keep him on track if he starts to go down a rabbit trail that you know won’t be helpful to you. But, stay open-minded and don’t be overbearing or pushy. They may have ideas or solutions that you’ve not yet considered.
- Bring someone with you if possible. It’s hard to process a lot of new information, especially when you already feel like crap. It can help to have someone else there to advocate for you and to take notes on the meeting. My mom always brings a special notebook to my appointments and acts as the secretary, jotting down referrals, recommendations, and instructions. (Thanks again, Mom!)
4. Don’t self-diagnose:
If you think you have a rare or not commonly known disease (like chronic Lyme, Ehlers-Danlos, etc.) resist the urge to say “I have a collagen disorder” if you have not officially been diagnosed by another practitioner. The doctors will probably take one look at you and assume that you just fell down some WebMD rabbit-hole and it may de-legitimize you in their eyes (I’m not saying that this is right, I’m just saying that lots of doctors function this way).
If you are well-researched on whatever disorder you are suspecting that you have and you want to bring it up, I suggest printing out some material from relevant sources, showing it to the doctor, and then explain that you have X number of unique symptoms in common with this disorder. Make it brief, but be firm in you are sure that you may have a rare disease (or just a regular disease). They can’t ignore you if you’ve done your homework in this area. At the very least, they will be able to refer you to a specialist who deals with that type of illness.
5. Know when to move on:
If you’re a smart patient, you’ll know when to quit. Sometimes you have to stick around long enough for a doctor to really get to know you and your case before the appointments begin to yield any results. Other times, you will know right away that it’s not a good fit and that you should try another doctor.
There are some doctors who are goodhearted and are willing to learn and challenge themselves with your case, even if they don’t understand your condition right away. These doctors will go to bat for you and will use their time and resources to help you any way they can. These are the keepers!
There are also some doctors who may be intelligent but who are arrogant and don’t ever want to be “proven wrong” by looking into a disease they don’t understand. If you ever come across a practitioner who doesn’t take your pain and suffering seriously, mocks your, or tells you that you’re just a psych case/that it’s all in your head, KICK THEM TO THE CURB and go write them a bad review on the internet, just for good measure!
You deserve to feel heard, validated, and respected, no matter how sick you are!
There are millions of doctors who are all different in personality and skill set, so just because one experience ended badly, don’t give up.
Well, good luck out there, Spoonies. It’s a long road ahead, but I know you can make it!
Em the Silver Spoonie