My friend Janet had a bad wound on her leg. It had been there for two months, and just looked worse and worse. Finally, it got 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; it went 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. You’re not even halfway home when it begins squealing again. So you turn 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 go back 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 with 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. He’s sworn both times it was fixed, but your car is still squealing.
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…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 give the mechanic one more time. After that, I’d definitely find someone else.
But in the case of my body, and an infection which could totally take control of my body – 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 for treating infections and ask her to help me figure it out once and for all – and then get rid of it.
Which is exactly what Janet needed to do. I told her I feared for her leg or her life. She was hesitating because she “really liked her doctor!” I was afraid she was going to really like him – until something terrible happened to her leg.
I know that it’s not always easy to find a new doctor. I am also well aware that health insurers sometimes 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 care doctor, how do you broach the subject?
One great answer is that you can 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. Find your improved medical outcome with the help of a professional advocate.