Bad Medicine

I grew up in a fairly small town, and as a result, most of my friends shared the same doctor. During my childhood, he suffered a great tragedy, which he couldn't seem to separate from his worklife. As a result, his behavior became quite strange and sometimes borderline abusive. I remember him throwing my two-year-old brother down on the treatment table violently, then roughly restraining him while jabbing him with a shot, furious because he wouldn't stop squirming away from the needle. He would scream and yell at the kids who didn't immediately cooperate, and would ask questions that were highly inappropriate. (He started asking me about whether I was a "bad girl" who let boys touch me when I was around 9 or 10, for example.) I never left his office without tearstreaks, and every time my yearly exam rolled around, I spent a sleepless week dreading it. Despite all this, I saw him until I was old enough to go to an adult doctor-and by that time one of his misdiagnoses had left a child in a coma. Now that I think back, it amazes me that my parents, and all of my friends parents, kept bringing their kids to him. It wasn't like they were bad parents; my mother was borderline paranoid about my health and well-being in every other way. But when it came to switching doctors, she just couldn't do it. She just couldn't get past the idea that he was the doctor, and the authority figure. His years of education and experience overruled all of the doubts that he manifested.

This all came back to me when I overheard (okay...eavesdropped) on a conversation the other day. An older woman was talking about visiting an acupuncturist for her chronic pain condition. She had been seeing him for a while with no results, but was still hoping to get some relief eventually. What really struck me was this comment: "Every time I go in, you can hear me screaming from all the way down the hall! What he does just hurts so badly, and with my condition my muscles are always knotted up, so when he digs into the muscles with the needles, it's just unbearable pain. But, hopefully at some point it will start working."

Wait, what? You have been seeing this practitioner for months, with no changes, and his treatments leave you screaming in agony? And you are paying for this? I'm not saying that all acupuncture treatments are painless, and there can definitely be strong sensations involved. But if a patient is screaming for an hour straight, something isn't right. Clearly, this style isn't working for her. And if something isn't working, change it!

It's fine to respect your health practitioners, but always keep in mind that you are the one who needs to be happy with them. If they are causing you undue, pain, aren't getting results, don't seem to be paying attention, or simply don't care...ditch them. Nothing is more valuable than your health. Most people research their mechanics to be sure they aren't doing a shoddy job; why should checking out your health practitioners be any less important?

So...today's goal is to think about all those individuals who you see for your health needs, and to decide whether they are working for you. Do you feel comfortable and safe with all of these people? Great! If not, it's time to start making some calls.