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Women and Their Doctors

We all hope we’re lucky enough to find competent, compassionate doctors who spend time listening to us, then give us thoughtful answers and possible next steps. Most of my doctors are great patient advocates who write down complicated medical jargon and draw working diagrams of things like my hypothalamus. I’ve also stumbled across a couple of doctors who are bozos, or at the very least, unfeeling.

Take the doctor who, before even introducing himself, slipped my x-ray into the light box and said, “This will probably result in the amputation of your foot.” He refused to hear my suggestion that the marble-sized ball in the arch of my foot might have been caused by new cowboy boots I’d worn for nearly a week. Instead, he interrupted and proceeded to tell me if it were a benign “tumor,” it would have been located on the other side of my arch, but because it wasn’t, it was most certainly malignant. Thirty-five thousand dollars and a new doctor later, a blood clot, probably caused by an ill-fitting cowboy boot, was removed from the arch of my foot. Clearly Dr. Bozo didn’t listen to my “Yes, Doctor, but…,” which reminds me of last week’s post about women and their healthcare.

“Yes, Doctor, but…,” one of the core insights from the Digitas Health and Yahoo study of 40,000 women in their 40s and 50s, has generated lots of response. In addition to comments on my blog, I’ve received emails and phone calls from women who not only want to play a role in their healthcare, but want to deal with doctors who consult them when making decisions about their care. These responses have made me think about the differences between baby boomers and our mother’s generation and the way we interface with our doctors. If my mother had been told she might have her foot amputated, I’m not sure she would have gotten a second opinion, much less discussed it in-depth with her doctor.

My mother has always wanted to… pardon the pun… put her best foot forward, even with her doctors. While she makes doctors appointments to talk about specific physical problems, I’ve been with her enough to know she doesn’t always tell them the truth. I remember when mother was nearly doubled up in pain from diverticulitis, but when I took her to the doctor, she said something like, “It’s mildly uncomfortable.” When the doctor pressed on her abdomen and asked if that hurt, or if it was tender, she winced, clearly ready to bolt off the examining table but said, “It’s not bad.” A few days later, she complained her doctor wasn’t any good because he didn’t solve her problem. Duh! Garbage in, garbage out! I sometimes wonder if mother thinks good doctors should intuit her problems. Then again, she’s from the generation where “nice girls” don’t talk about sex, or problems “down there,” and where doctors are Gods not to be questioned. Even though most of today’s baby boomers are better informed and more proactive than most of their mothers, we still need to know how to establish good doctor/patient relationships, especially when it comes to certain issues.

As baby boomers age, we may develop embarrassing conditions like lack of bladder control, low libido or painful sex, issues many of us are hesitant to discuss with our doctors. On the flip side, many doctors aren’t initiating these conversations with us. If doctors don’t ask, and patients don’t speak up, then we may be suffering needlessly from manageable conditions. Girlfriends! We are the generation that fought for equality and the destruction of the glass ceiling, the right to say “no” and the right to an abortion. Now is not the time to withdraw into our nearly empty estrogen tanks and silence our voices. Please, speak up, and if your doctor is embarrassed to have these conversations with you, FIND ANOTHER DOCTOR!

In defense of doctors, I think most would prefer to have proactive patients. I also know many doctors silently groan when they see us pull out our 8 ½” x 11” printed pages because our information is often wrong, or has nothing to do with our condition. If you’ve done any symptom searches on the Internet, you already know you can find most any answer you’re looking for. Take diverticulitus for example: You can find information about this condition on websites that range from Johns Hopkins Hospital to a website about air conditioners and furnaces. Really! We need to limit the websites we frequent to credible ones, and steer clear of those that aren’t professional looking or don’t ever link to credible sources.

Taking mother to the doctor is kind of like watching someone who’s being tortured by Guido and Little Louie; someone who’s deliberately not relating the right information and yet fears Guido and Little Louie will turn up the torture knob a notch. A couple of weeks ago, I took mother to the geriatrician for swollen, red wrists and hands that seemed to be extremely painful. She moaned all the way there, but when the doctor pressed on mother’s wrists, mother smiled and said, “It doesn’t hurt.” When the doctor finally looked at me, I said, “Yes, doctor, but…”