About Us · Contact Us   

Archive for September, 2009

How to Go to the Doctor

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Today, I had to accept the awful truth.  I am not invincable.  I am not even well at the moment–unless you think five naps a day is normal.

I’ve been telling myself for over two weeks that I was not going to go to the doctor.  That I didn’t need to go to the doctor.  That it was just a matter of letting my body have the time it needed to get over whatever this is.

I dislike going to the doctor intensely.  It’s an antiseptic experience that drains my wallet faster than a good sale at REI.  I usually feel like I’ve just been duped yet again when I leave the clinic after I ask for some help.  Because I usually don’t get it.

Some of this is the nature of the beast.  Modern medicine is a monstrous assortment of machines, needles, computers, and contraptions with a face stuck in every once in a while to make it look “human.”  It’s a lot of anonymous waiting and undignified “procedures.”  At lot of people end up worse off for getting into it. (The most recent figures put the annual death rate from medical mistakes at 98,000 and from adverse drug interactions at 100,000. )

But this time I had to admit that whatever is wrong hurt–a lot.

So I tried an acupuncturist, which was a  vastly different experience.  After an hour of informative conversation with that knowledgeable person I spent another half hour making myself lie still with tiny little needles poking out of me.  (The needles were nowhere near as traumatic as I expected but you do sort of feel like you are in a fake horror movie–the first time anyway.)   She advised me to add some supplements to my diet and I was out of there.  No tests!

Acupuncture helped with the pain some, and with a diagnosis, but I started to not feel right about my stubborn stand in not seeing my primary care physician (who is also a nice, capable person–but rushed).

Two days ago, I finally had to own up.  My resistance was more ego than intelligence.  I didn’t want to go to the doctor because I didn’t think it would do any good.   I wasn’t afraid of it.  I just didn’t want to give in and subject myself to the whole prolonged, expensive drill.

But then I got to thinking about the responsibility of it.  What if there was something wrong that could have been easily discovered and easily remedied–and that had really bad consequences if left undetected?

I wrangled with my ego for the better part of two days, trying to unravel just what about the process had me so turned off.  All I could hear was myself repeating  “No.  No.  No.”

Then it finally dawned on me.  I did not want the malady to become my life, which often happens when you seek entrance into our “health care system.”  I didn’t want to be a victim of anything, including a disease.  I didn’t want to sit in a lot of cold hard chairs in lifeless lab lobbies waiting to be called for yet another test after the previous one came back “normal.”

That’s when I saw the solution.  I am an adult.  I didn’t have to agree to every imaginable test.  Just the basic ones that ruled out big problems.  That was responsible.  Agreeing to an open-ended list “just in case” was not.

So I went, my doc and we talked. I agreed to some simple blood tests.  If they all come back okay, I will see if things improve on their own for a few weeks before I peruse anything else.  The doc is okay with this approach.  And I am relieved–I haven’t let my loved ones down by ignoring a health problem.

Medical attention is not a case of putting yourself in some doctor’s hands with blind faith.  Doctors practice.  You need to be fully engaged in getting their help or they are going to be doing a lot more guessing than they should have to.  Pay attention to what your heart, gut, and mind are telling you when you go in and don’t agree to stuff that doesn’t seem right.  Run your health care.  Don’t let it run you.

Are we talking PAIN? Or just discomfort?

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009


A few weeks ago I had the chance to go on a weekend bicycle trip with a group that included a new friend. He rode a recumbent bike because of a neck injury that would have otherwise ended his cycling fun. He taught me something that I’m realizing relates to far more than cycling. I asked him if it hurt when he rode. He said, “I’ve reached the point where it’s important to distinguish between ‘pain’ and ‘discomfort’.”  That’s a good thing for all of us to know.

Pain is when something hurts so bad you can’t keep doing what you are doing.

Discomfort is when something about the situation creates less than a perfect experience.

If we are doing it right, we’re paying attention to the pain and ignoring the discomfort.  We don’t get much encouragement for going about it that way.

In one camp are the “no pain no gain” folks, who claim you have to work through the pain.  They’ve been falling out of favor recently, and that’s good.  If you are truly in pain, it’s time to alter course, be it backing off on an exercise routine or letting go of a certain version of a life.

But the messages that suggest we need to “fix” every little discomfort do just us just as much of a disservice.  The idea that nothing should ever hurt makes great business for pharmaceutical companies and therapists, but is it realistic?  No.  And it means you miss a good opportunity to prove your mettle.

On the bike trip where I first got to thinking about this, I had the chance to feel assorted discomforts.  The second day we had rain.  We rode anyway.  It got a colder than what I was dressed for.  It was still a good ride.  We addressed the discomforts when they got to be excessive—like finding shelter in a bike-friendly convenience store along the trail during the worst of the deluge.

But none of us gave in to the bad weather entirely—and that engendered a greater sense of accomplishment.  (The next day we were going to ride a dirt trail over high trestles and through long tunnels.  Lots of them.  When we got to the trailhead, it was 42 degrees and foggy.  That one, we aborted.  There is discomfort, and there is lunacy….)

But back to the idea of living with discomfort.  Take the common cold.  I’ve had friends tell me they give it three days and then go to the doctor.  For what?  It’s a cold.  Bed rest.  Lots of fluids.  And a big dose of patience is pretty much all that’s going to work.  Instead, the expectation is that there is some medicine that will make it all go away.  Nope.  But now in addition to the cold, you’ve wasted money and time on a doctor’s visit.  Did you really need it or were you just impatient with the discomfort?

The distinction is every bit as useful in assessing a job situation.  Perhaps you have to work with someone you don’t like.  Is that pain?  Not unless you make it so.  Discomfort, yes.  But pain from such a situation is usually more a case of what your ego is telling you about how awful it is.  Learn to live with the jerk and you win twice—by mastering that skill as well as avoiding the frustrations of a job search.

Both pain and discomfort serve useful purposes if we choose to let them.

Pain tells you it’s time to stop doing what you are doing.  Pain makes you stop doing what you are doing.  Quite often, pain requires you to seek help, whether it’s for a broken leg or an impossible business situation.  Pain precipitates change.

Discomfort, on the other hand, is a challenge to keep going.  It provides the opportunity to reaffirm your commitment to whatever you are doing.  Working through it confirms that what you’re working on is important enough that you are willing to put up with less than perfect circumstances to get it done.  And often, when you work through the discomfort, there’s a sense of achievement from it that gives you even more motivation to complete what you’re trying to do.

Given the contrast in what each offers, being able to differentiate between pain and discomfort is important.  Can you?  Knowing when to quit is good.  So is knowing when keep going.