The first patient I ever saw as a testosterone clinic mcallen year resident came in with a litany of complaints, not one of which I remember today except for one: he had headaches. The reason I remember he had headaches isn’t because I spent so much time discussing them but rather the exact opposite: at the time I knew next to nothing about headaches and somehow managed to end the visit without ever addressing his at all, even though they were the primary reason he’d come to see me.
Then I rotated on a neurology service and actually learned quite a lot about headaches. Then when my patient came back to see me a few months later, I distinctly remember at that point not only being interested in his headaches but actually being excited to discuss them.
I often find myself thinking back to that experience when I’m confronted with a patient who has a complaint I can’t figure out, and I thought it would be useful to describe the various reactions doctors have in general to patients when they can’t figure out what’s wrong, why they have them, and what you can do as a patient to improve your chances in such situations of getting good care.
THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD
Believing a wacky idea in and of itself isn’t wacky. Believing a wacky idea without proof, however, most certainly is. Likewise, disbelieving sensible ideas without disproving them when they’re disprovable is wacky as well. Unfortunately, patients are often guilty of the first thought error (“My diarrhea is caused by a brain tumor”) and doctors of the second (“brain tumors don’t cause diarrhea, so you can’t have a brain tumor”), leading in both instances to contentious doctor-patient relationships, missed diagnoses, and unnecessary suffering. Doctors sometimes aren’t willing to order tests that patients think are necessary because they think the patient’s belief about what’s wrong is wacky; they sometimes suggest a patient’s symptoms are psychosomatic when every test they run is negative but the symptoms persist; and they sometimes offer explanations for symptoms the patient finds improbable but refuse to pursue the cause of the symptoms any further.
Sometimes these judgments are correct and sometimes they’re not—but the experience of being on the receiving end of them is always frustrating for patients. However, given that your doctor has medical training and you don’t, the best strategy to use in these situations may be to do your best to ensure you’re being handed judgments based on sound scientific reasoning rather than unconscious bias.