I got some really surprising health advice from one of my doctors recently: “Don’t rush to the doctor. Sometimes stuff just happens.” And I totally appreciated the perspective.
When I was telling him about a recent health symptom of heartburn, I asked if I should seek a follow up with a specialist. This is when he explained that sometimes our bodies just do stuff or react to something or just have a short-term issue. In his opinion, we don’t need to rush off to the doctor for every single health discomfort. When it becomes repetitive and bothersome is when we should seek some more counsel and testing.
Going overboard on diagnostic tests
I think growing up I just became used to going to the doctor all the time. Sometimes I did feel like paramecium under the microscope. I was constantly (at least it felt like it) being poked and tested. They wanted to find all my ills, test all the currently available treatments, apply copious amounts of physical therapy—all with the goal of scientifically discovering my flaws so they could ultimately repair them. I am the living embodiment of medicalization. All my problems were chalked up to medical dysfunctions that must be resolved.
Unfortunately, it’s really not that simple. Rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t have a cure. (And they also never found one for me. Har har!) We never figured out where my illness came from. We never got to the bottom of all my ills.
Taking a step back
Over the years I learned to take the foot off the gas. I didn’t need to see the doctors as much, as long as I had a stable treatment (now, that’s another story!). I did need checkups to make sure my medications were not causing too many problems and to keep an eye on my general health. But I didn’t need to be a guinea pig anymore.
Deciding when to see a doctor
Generally, I do lean towards moderation and as few doctors’ visits as I can manage. Sometimes it still feels like a lot. I have annual appointments, such as my physical and eye checkups. Visits to the podiatrist a couple times a year. Dentist at least twice a year. I see my rheumatologist at least four times a year. When you tally these visits, which are completely reasonable, it does add up. And, of course, you have to throw in the occasional emergency like colds (or pneumonia) and RA flares.
It's challenging having so many doctor visits
Part of my resistance to checking out my sleep problems was this very issue. Where is the time for adding a new doctor? But it has helped me to diagnose and treat my sleep apnea. So the balance is hard to strike—when to react and when to just watch a quirk of the body that may or may not be a new health concern?
Striking a balance with doctor visits
It helps to have my doctor remind me that “stuff happens” because I have experienced it. With my RA, I have weird joint issues, pains, and so forth all the time. I don’t call my doctor unless it doesn’t resolve in a reasonable time, because I know it’s a quirk of my illness and that there is little (or nothing) my doctor could do.
Bodies react and adapt to things
I need to remember with my body (or anyone’s body) that we are all different and strange. Our bodies are reacting or experiencing different things we can’t see all the time. Nature is wonderful in that we adapt and heal. Sometimes we just need the time and space to do that. Sometimes if we continue to feel unwell or hampered we do need to seek medical treatment. Other times we just need to accept quirks of our bodies that may be unique from others. After all, stuff happens!
Check-in: As we start a new year, how are you feeling?