My friend Janet has a bad wound on her leg. It has been there for two months, and just looks worse and worse. Now it looks so bad she doesn’t even want to leave the house.
“What does your doctor say about it?” I asked her.
“I’ve been back to him five times!”, she responded. “He keeps giving me antibiotics, but it doesn’t seem to get any better.”
“Five times???” I asked her, incredulously.
It was time for “the talk” with Janet.
… the talk in which I use my auto mechanic metaphor; the one that goes like this:
You’re headed to work, and all of a sudden you car starts up with a squealing noise right under the hood. You take it to your mechanic who tells you he’ll fix it, and to come back to get it tomorrow.
You pick up your car the next day, and aren’t even halfway home when it begins squealing again. So you turn right around and return to your mechanic. “It’s still making that noise!” you tell him.
“OK – sorry – leave it with me and pick it up tomorrow.”
The next day you return to pick up your car again. Your mechanic apologizes, says he’s sure he’s got it this time, and sends you on your way with what you believe is your non-squealing car.
You get all the way home – no problem, no squeal. But the next morning you leave for work and – arghgh! – your car is squealing again!
Now – your mechanic, who you love so much it’s like he’s part of the family, has had two opportunities to fix it, has sworn both times it was fixed, but you still have a squealing car.
What do you do? It has cost you time and money to no benefit so far. But should you return – again? – to your favorite mechanic? Can you trust him THIS time?
The answer is… (drum roll….) IT DEPENDS. It depends on how negative the impact is on your life if you keep going back.
In the case of my car, I MIGHT go back one more time and tell him “I’m willing to give you one more chance, but then, I hope you’ll understand that I’m going to have to try someone else if you can’t get rid of that squeal this time.”
But in the case of my body, and an infection (which, you have to agree, is more life-altering than a squealing car), which can totally take control of my body (including my heart, or my brain) – then NO. No more returning to the same person who couldn’t fix me! I’m going somewhere else. I’m going to find someone with an excellent reputation in infectious diseases and ask her to help me figure it out once and for all – and then get rid of it.
Which is exactly what Janet needs to do, but what she hasn’t done. I told her I fear for her leg or her life. She’s thinking it over because she “really likes her doctor!” I’m afraid she going to really like him – until her leg needs to be amputated.
Of course, I’m well aware that it’s not easy to find a new doctor. I am also well aware that insurance makes it hard, especially when you have to get permission from your primary care doctor to see a specialist. If you have to get a referral from your primary, as Janet must, then how do you broach the subject?
The answer is – you ask a professional to help you. You hire someone whose only allegiance is to you and to making sure you get the best, and most effective care you can get. Professional, independent advocates know how to work with your other doctors to be sure you’re getting the best from each, with no hard feelings that you’re seeing others, too.
Put another way, your doctor won’t feel as if you’ve spit in his soup.
Next time you’re having trouble getting over some seemingly “simple” malady, like a cold, or the flu, or a rash, or a cut, or anything else that you know should heal or go away – and it doesn’t – then think of the auto mechanic metaphor, and find your improved medical outcome with the help of a professional advocate.