Doctors Don’t Know Everything

, , , | Healthy | August 4, 2021

A routine blood test shows that my levels of TSH — thyroid-stimulating hormone — are high, 4.2 mg/l. Basically, it means that my thyroid isn’t working properly: the normal value ought to be under 4.5. I start seeing an endocrinologist. At 5…

Endocrinologist: “Yes, yes. Nothing to worry about. Let’s just keep it monitored. See you next year.”

Next year, at 6…

Endocrinologist: “Well, well. There’s clearly something going on here, but I’d rather not start medicating as you’re still young. See you next year.”

Next year, at 8…

Endocrinologist: “I don’t like the look of this. If it keeps rising, we’ll have to put you on something. See you next year.”

I get in the family way, and eight months into my pregnancy, I’m examined by an obstetric, an old guard doctor with the manners of a constipated bear. He takes a look at my blood tests.

Obstetric: “Just what are you waiting for before you do something for that thyroid, lady? Your TSH is through the roof!”

Thyroid medication, of course, is prescription-only. I would have so liked to give him my endocrinologist’s number and watch the discussion.

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Diagnosis: Unnecessary Anguish

, , , , | Healthy | July 24, 2021

In 2016, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Due to the cancer being estrogen-related, she opted out of chemotherapy and decided that the mastectomy and pills would be enough. I supported her 100% and even argued against doctors and my father when they tried to pressure her.

Two years later, her thyroid started acting up. She went in for multiple biopsies. While we waited for results, I started Googling if the breast cancer could have metastasized into her thyroid. A week went by, and she went to her regular doctor and was told that the results were cancer. We got a nice report that said whatever they found was malignant.

We were devastated, and I blamed myself for not pushing chemo on my mom. We got the results Wednesday and had to wait until Monday to see her cancer doctor. It was a bad week. The day of the appointment, I tagged along with my mom and dad so I could be kept informed. The doctor walked into the office smiling.

Doctor: “How are we doing today?”

Mom: “I don’t know, you tell me. Do you know what stage it is? Has it spread?”

Doctor: “Cancer?”

Mom: “In the thyroid?”

Doctor: “You don’t have cancer.”

Mom: “What? They told me it was cancer.”

That was apparently shocking enough that the doctor left the room to go talk with the other doctors who did the biopsy.

Doctor: “Well, I mean it’s not not cancer. We don’t know exactly what’s wrong. It needs to come out for sure, but it’s probably not cancer, and if it was, it’d be stage zero and not dangerous.”

I sat in silence while the doctor hashed out treatment and surgery options with my parents. I felt relieved but also annoyed and confused. 

Me: “I read the report, though. Why’d they put ‘malignant’ if they didn’t know?”

Doctor: “Oh, well, sometimes they just need to put something on the report.”

It wasn’t cancer, by the way. The thyroid was two times bigger and three times heavier than it should have been and covered in nodes, but my mom made a full recovery and is healthy.

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This All Sounds Totally Normal

, , , , , | Healthy | July 9, 2021

I’ve had some worrying symptoms, so I go to see a new doctor for the first time. I recently lost my insurance and then the health crisis hit, so I haven’t had a primary care provider in some time. As suspected, the doctor orders some bloodwork.

Me: “Will this require me to fast? Because if I don’t, fair warning, my liver enzymes will be high.”

Doctor: “What do you mean?”

Me: “Any time I take a blood test and I’m not required to fast, my liver enzymes are always reported as abnormally high.”

Doctor: “And your previous doctor never bothered to try and figure out why that is?”

Me: “No, they would just order another test, have me fast, and then go, ‘You’re normal.’”

The doctor rolls her eyes in annoyance at this.

Doctor: “Okay, but… why wouldn’t they check that?” *Sighs* “Don’t fast for this one, but I’m going to have to have that checked out… like somebody should have a while ago.”

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A Very Patient Patient

, , , , | Healthy | July 7, 2021

I’ve just begun seeing this psychiatrist for treatment for ADD after having been diagnosed by a different doctor who, unfortunately, was too far away for me to see him regularly.

First, I go over history, habits, etc. with her.

Me: “I’ve read that [Drug #1] is more commonly used to treat this, but [Drug #2] has less anxiety-inducing side effects, and I think that that might be the better choice for me—”

Doctor #1: “Oh, no, you don’t want to take either of those. They can both be addictive, but [Drug #3] works just as well and doesn’t have nearly so many terrible side effects.”

Me: “Oh, all right! That sounds a lot better. Let’s try that!”

She then goes over what she says are all the potential side effects I need to worry about and writes me a prescription. Two weeks later, I return for my first follow-up.

Doctor #1: “So, how do you like them?”

Me: “I don’t know. They make me sick to my stomach. Most days, I throw up for the first time pretty soon after taking them, even if I’m sure to do it with food and without anything else that might upset my stomach, so I don’t think they’re actually being properly absorbed, and then I’m sick throughout the day. When I can keep them down, I still get very nauseous. I’m having headaches and feeling really tired.”

Doctor #1: “That’s normal while you’re starting the medication. You just need to keep taking it; your body will adjust.”

Me: “Even though I’m throwing it up almost every day?”

Doctor #1: “Yes, it’s still getting into your system. You’ll see.”

Me: “And the headaches and tiredness?”

Doctor #1: “The headaches will go away, and tiredness isn’t a side effect of this drug. You need to make sure you’re maintaining a good sleep schedule; that way, you’ll be able to separate your regular feelings from the medication. Just stick with it.”

Two weeks after that, I go back again.

Me: “I haven’t been getting sick quite as much, but the headaches and drowsiness are really bad, even on days when I’m getting eight hours. Also, does this medication react with alcohol at all? Because I was at a party and I had a drink, and I started feeling way too intoxicated for just having had one drink.”

Doctor #1: “What? You must never drink while you’re taking this medication! You shouldn’t drink at all — it’s so bad for you — but if you drink while you’re on this medication, it will kill you!”

Me: “I told you in the intake interview that I drank occasionally. Why didn’t you warn me?”

Doctor #1: “You shouldn’t drink at all! It’s terrible for you! You’re so lucky nothing else happened to you!”

So, I give up drinking. At her insistence, I keep taking the medication, in part because she’s told me that she won’t prescribe me anything else, despite me requesting that she change it multiple times. I assume that since she’s a doctor, she must know better than I do, even though the side effects still remain and I haven’t noticed many changes in my symptoms.

After ten months, I start seeing a psychotherapist for different reasons, and when she hears about what’s been going on, she insists that I take her referral to a different psychiatrist.

Doctor #2: “So, you’ve been taking [Drug #3] for eight months? Have you noticed your symptoms improving?”

Me: “A little, I guess. I think it’s hard to tell because I’ve been so tired lately. I know that that’s not supposed to be a side effect for [Drug #3], but I’ve been making sure I get enough sleep and it’s still a problem.”

Doctor #2: “You noticed you were becoming tired after you started [Drug #3]? You know, just because something isn’t one of the listed side effects, it doesn’t mean it can’t possibly happen. So that’s made it hard for you to tell if your symptoms are improving?”

I’m encouraged that he hasn’t just dismissed me.

Me: “Yes, definitely. And the headaches. They’ve been so bad that I can’t focus at all sometimes.”

Doctor #2: *Taking notes* “Are those all the side effects you’ve noticed?”

Me: “Well, it doesn’t happen as frequently now, but probably once a week I’ll end up throwing up from the meds.”

Doctor #2: “Once a week isn’t frequent?”

Me: “It used to be almost every day. My old doctor said it was just my body adjusting to the medication.”

Doctor #2: “How long did that go on?”

Me: “The first few months? When I first started, I’d be sick throughout the day, but after a while, it would just happen right after I took the pills. Now, though, I’m usually just nauseous for a while, but sometimes that gets so bad that I need to lie down.”

Doctor #2: “So, we’ve got drowsiness, nausea, and headaches. Anything else?”

Me: “No. The only other weird reaction was when I drank, which I found out I wasn’t supposed to do.”

Doctor #2: “Not supposed to drink?”

Me: “Yeah, my other doctor told me afterward about how it can be deadly, so losing some of my equilibrium seems like a fair trade-off since that’s the only bad thing that happened.”

Doctor #2: “There are warnings about drinking on [Drug #3] because it can increase the effects of alcohol on your system, but the only life-threatening concerns are for binge drinkers, because [Drug #3] could exacerbate liver damage. Your doctor told you drinking on [Drug #3] was prohibited?”

Me: “She basically told me that it would be fatal.”

Doctor #2: “All right. Well, first of all, that’s not true. Second, since you’re having such bad side effects from [Drug #3] and you haven’t noticed much improvement, I’d recommend switching medications, all right?”

He ended up prescribing me [Drug #2], the same drug that I requested from my first doctor during our first appointment. It’s been a month, and all the drowsiness, nausea, and headaches are gone, along with a lot of my initial symptoms. Let this be a warning: if your doctor refuses to work with you to find an acceptable course of treatment and you have any other options at all, explore them! An MD doesn’t always mean that the doctor knows best.

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You Should Warm Up Before A Stretch Like That

, , , , | Healthy | July 1, 2021

I am, by my own admission, rather overweight. I also have very painful periods, so I end up going on birth control to regulate them. As I am overweight, I have to get a blood pressure check every six months before I can get another prescription, so I’ve signed up with the University Doctors’ Surgery while I am studying at the other end of the country.

It’s a hot summer’s day when I come in for this appointment, and I’m wearing a short-sleeved shirt. As my appointment is deemed low-priority, I get assigned to whichever doctor is available, so I haven’t seen this doctor before.

After taking my blood pressure and removing the cuff, he spots some marks on my arms.

Doctor: “How long have you had those?”

Me: “Not sure. Maybe about a year?”

Doctor: “And you didn’t think of mentioning them before?”

Me: “I didn’t think they were a problem. Are they?”

Doctor: “They look like symptoms of excessive cortisol. It would explain why you have so much excess weight. If they are still there in six months, let us know. They’ll probably have to do brain surgery to fix it.”

Me: *Internally* “WHAT?!”

Me: *Externally* “Okay?”

I don’t deal with this news very well. My hair is the one feature I like about myself, and it seems like a massive thing, so I just go into denial and cover up the marks on my arms.

I’m still doing this when I go home for the holidays, even though it’s getting hotter, and my nan — who was a nurse before she retired — pulls me aside one day.

Nan: “Aren’t you hot in that, [My Name]?”

Me: “Yeah, but it’s okay.”

Nan: “You must be boiling!”

She keeps badgering me until I blurt out the whole story. She looks sceptical.

Nan: “Can I take a look at these marks?”

Reluctantly, I take off my jumper, and she looks at them for two seconds.

Nan: “When you go back for your next appointment, go to any other doctor; don’t go back to that moron. He’s seeing zebras.”

Me: “Huh? What do you mean?”

Nan: “Those are f****** stretch marks.”

So, six months of worry because a doctor didn’t recognise stretch marks. Great!

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