If I Could Teach Every Doctor Just One Thing…

My doctor cannot fix me.

I see in his eyes at every appointment how much he wants to fix me, but he can’t, no matter how hard he tries.

I can tell how much it bothers him, I suspect more than it bothers me, because at least there are things I can do each day to manage my symptoms through the decisions I make about my routines and nutrition.

Medically speaking though, I have exhausted every option. There are no more drugs to try, no referrals to make, nothing my doctor can do except keep his ear to the ground and wait for medical science to catch up with the devastating effects of this complex disease.

Once a year when routine bloods are taken my GP brings the results to me in person. This is little more than a medical courtesy – a phone call would do – but he knows that this is the only time he will ever see me. I cannot come to the surgery, and home visits are reserved for emergencies so between annual reviews I will deal with a host of debilitating but non-life-threatening medical issues without any intervention. Even the ordinary problems that people seek help for – minor injuries and infections, coughs, earaches, sprains and back problems – will go untreated as they are not worth taking up six appointment slots for a doctor to come and see me.

Even though he cannot help me, I feel better for my doctor’s visit. At least someone has listened to me and I have been able to speak about the pain and frustration of chronic illness that have no place in ordinary conversation. Because he cannot help me, my doctor feels worse for his visits. They make him feel powerless. What good is a healer that cannot heal?

Every time he comes he racks his brains for something, anything, that might make a difference for me. Every time he asks if I’m aware from my own research of any treatments  that might be worth investigating. If the blood-tests show something is curably wrong – mild anaemia or a vitamin deficiency – his relief is evident as he writes the rare prescription that will fix at least one of my problems.

Sometimes, when I know he is coming, I will rack my own brains for something to ask his advice about – a stubborn patch of eczema or the possible merits of multi-vitamins – so at least he can feel like he has done something for me. He is grateful for any medical crumb to sink his teeth into. I am grateful for a doctor that tries so hard to take care of me. I know patients far sicker than I, who don’t even have that one small mercy.

The simple truth is that I no longer expect my doctor to fix me. I did a long time ago when I first got sick, but that was before I learned that doctors aren’t infallible and that not all conditions can be treated.

The official reason for my doctor’s visits is to update my notes for various benefit assessments but on a personal level they serve a far more important purpose: they show that he cares. They show that he believes me. They show that I have not been completely abandoned by the medical profession. They show that he sees my suffering and wants the very best for me even when he can’t actually make that happen.

This hasn’t been my experience of every doctor. Many hold outdated and unsubstantiated opinions about ‘false illness beliefs’, ‘deconditioning’ and ‘exercise phobia’, ignoring decades of medical evidence to prove this is not the case. Some make no attempt to hide their frustration and impatience, leaving me to feel as though I am a time-waster and undeserving of their help. When they tell me I ‘ought to be better by now’ and describe my lack of progress as ‘disappointing’, I feel like an errant school-child summoned before a disapproving headmaster. Perhaps they are afraid to admit that they don’t have all the answers (I am sure they want to help me just as much in their own abrupt way). Perhaps they assume that I blame them for their failure to fix me, but I have enough frustrations of my own to carry, I do not need to be burdened with theirs as well.

So if I could teach every doctor just one thing, it would be that their willingness to listen to patients and acknowledge their suffering is as important as the medical help that they offer. In the face of intractable, chronic illness the knowledge that a doctor believes what I am saying, respects my opinion and wants dearly to help me, means as much (if not more) than any of the pills and specialist referrals they might have to offer.

So the next time I watch my GP head back to his car, crestfallen that once again he has failed to fix me, I will thank God for a GP that wants so much to help me and my heart will break yet again, that I cannot be the miracle he so desperately wants for me.

My GP cannot fix me.

I am thankful for him anyway.

Over to you:
What are your experiences of doctors, good and bad?
If you could teach anything to your own doctor, what would it be?

This entry was posted in Hidden Disability, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to If I Could Teach Every Doctor Just One Thing…

  1. Sally says:

    I like your style! And “Hooray!” for all caring doctors out there. I feel I was “lucky” with how this illness hit me… I was not totally levelled, and also got great advice from the online community that helped me to help myself and prevent the push/crash worsening cycle…. well not entirely, but at least to the extent that I can still have some normality….. So here’s a cheer for all ME bloggers, and those on forums…. 🙂

  2. Jenni says:

    I would teach my rheumy to have a little more compassion. She may care but she does show it in the oddest of ways. She is a brilliant rheumy, I think she just lacks a bit of empathy sometimes. I think I would also teach my rheumy to speak more freely to me since we hardly exchange any words during an appointment, and even when I get letters back explaining my blood results I get a quick two liners.
    I bet it is hard being a doctor though and seeing so many sick people, maybe it’s just her way of coping.

    • Doctors have such large workloads and have to cram so many patients into such a short space of time that it must be hard for them to give every patient the time and reassurance they expect and deserve. What seems routine to a doctor who will see dozens of patients in a day will be a much bigger deal to the patient who will only get to see one doctor. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Such a good post and I totally relate to it. I do the ‘racking my brains for something my Doctor can help me with’ too. My GP gives me time and that is invaluable. He sees me at the end of surgery for a ‘catch up’ (as you say to update records for financial assessments primarily) and gives me time to talk and he listens. He says himself he wishes there was something else out there, anything, that we could try to improve my situation. But to date there isn’t. So for now I’m just grateful for his time and attention. I know I am fortunate to even have this when so many doctors do not understand ME or give it the time it deserves. I’m glad you have a compassionate, caring Doctor too. My GP can’t fix me, but I’m thankful for him all the same.

    • I know so many ME patients who don’t have the support of a good GP or even worse, have a GP who doesn’t accept that it is a biological disease. Every time I hear harrowing tales of patients being disbelieved and mistreated by the doctors or searching every practice in town for a sympathetic GP it makes me realise how lucky I am. ‘Thank you’ somehow seems so inadequate even though he would tell you that he is only doing his job.

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