Often we go to our local family doctor when we’ve got the flu, a headache lasting for several days, a lump or a nagging backache. You have been advised your aches/pains/lump don’t appear serious and conservative treatment is recommended. Maybe he’d suggest some ibuprofen and tell you not to worry about that lump. It’s nothing. Frequently, that can be pretty good advice.
But, let’s say your headache just won’t go away, your backache gets worse over time or that lump appears to be getting bigger. Do you go back to your doctor? Go to another doc? Do you watch and wait? Or, do you try to ignore it because this whole illness thing scares you to death?
While all of the above are possible courses of action it’s obvious that the last one – ignore it – isn’t your best choice. I do understand the fear, though. I’ve felt it and I get it. As you know, following up with your physician – the doc who knows you – is likely your best choice.
If you’re going to a smart doc, he’ll begin to think about what’s really going on with you. Maybe he’ll order some tests, treat you or possibly refer you to a specialist. Either way, here’s the take home message: If he’s not scratching his head and looking more closely at your problem, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with another physician.
My own family doc in Connecticut listened to my complaints, took them seriously, ordered investigative blood work and was right on target when my work-up proved there was indeed a problem. Referral to a specialist made a huge difference in my life. Thank goodness I had a smart family doctor who did not assume I was a “totally neurotic female patient.” Many family docs are excellent diagnosticians, not all of whom get the recognition they deserve -as my own oncologist told me. When we step into their office with our complaints, they silently go through their medical check-list to arrive at a reasonable answer to our problems. It’s a very long list with a lot of potential options. Your family doctor’s ability to guide you is the first step and often the most important one to get your body the help it needs.
You’ve heard the stories of family doctors who had not set their patients on the optimum path. They either waited too long to refer them to a specialist or misdiagnosed them entirely. Just a few come to mind: A young woman who lost her life when her malignant tumor was misdiagnosed as a cyst, another patient whose aching back was actually a vertebral fracture, and a patient with a supposed migraine who was actually suffering from a major, undiagnosed infection. Countless people are told they’re “just emotional” when there are no clear signs leading to an obvious diagnosis.
The question you’ll need to ask yourself is if your family doctor is a wise, patient investigator of your health problems. Certain illnesses can take a while to make themselves known. Smart, persistent, family doctors may need time, though, to figure out exactly what your health issue is. But, if quite a bit of time passes and you’re not getting at least somewhat better or if you’re getting worse, consider knocking on another door. It’s your health and your life. As I’ve often written before, what could be more important.