I’ve been thinking a lot about medical-related mistakes.
Not mistakes that doctors make, but those that we patients sometimes make.
While being diagnosed and treated for a devastating disease, patients can and do make mistakes. After all, a serious disease puts us in a hurly burly of medical decision-making and is tough medicine indeed. Now add to the mix one’s upbringing, world views, psyche, and peer pressure, among others. With so many factors affecting our decision making, it’s no surprise why our actions might lead to mistakes.
I made my share of mistakes as a cancer patient. After meticulously weighing my options — the way one might weigh objects on a scale — I would make my decision. Many of my choices were spot on. But….
Other times, I made mistakes.
Most of these mishaps could have been avoided, and so I’m sharing them with you. Here, then, are my top six mistakes to avoid when being a patient. I should know: I’ve made all of these mistakes, some repeatedly. These are not listed in any order of importance.
Speak up, don’t tough up, to medical professionals. A patient needs to inform doctors and nurses how he or she is really doing, physically and psychologically. Telling doctors you are okay when you are not is, well, not okay.
This was a huge hurdle for me, over which I tripped and left a trail of mistakes. When a doctor asked me how I was doing, I often said “fine” when I was not fine.
I initially lied to my doctors for a variety of reasons. I found myself trying to please the physicians and not wanting to bother them.
And I was prideful; I was always tough and strong and wanted to impress upon myself and my doctors that I had an iron-clad will and resolve. I come from a hardy family that deals with life’s problems through Spartan steely resolve and independence, stubbornness, and stoicism. A family that picked itself up by its own bootstraps when times got rough.
That’s why I decided to stay quiet about the horrific side effects from chemotherapy and radiation simultaneously. But these treatments were tougher than me. The truth is, doctors cannot read minds, and I got to a point where I admitted to my oncologist that I was ill.
Believe it or not, he was the first person who taught me to speak up to doctors. As I state in my book, when I finally told him I was sick, he told me that if I wasn’t feeling well, he needed to know about it. A nurse concurred by saying “If you need medication to alleviate the symptoms [of treatment], then you have to help yourself.”
Once I opened up to doctors how I was feeling physically, then I started telling them how I was feeling emotionally. And it led to a close relationship with my physicians that has lasted to this day. I remember telling my oncologist that I was stupid — when saddled with chemo-induced cognitive dysfunction, also known as chemobrain.
He held my hand and told me I was intelligent. This action meant the world to me and fostered a higher level of patient-doctor trust.
Reach out to others. I was also prideful in this arena. Other than regularly confiding in my brother and aunt, I initially did not reach out for emotional support. With their encouragement, I found myself walking through the doors of Gilda’s Club and calling the American Cancer Society. And these organizations helped me immensely, making me feel less alone.
Don’t rely solely on the Internet. I found that searching on the Internet via Dr. Google was a big mistake and often, after reading about worst-case scenarios, it’s no wonder why I was hysterical as I turned off the computer. I’m not saying patients shouldn’t research and get informed about their condition(s), but the Internet is a double-edged sword — an amalgamation of good information and deceptive information.
Don’t rush to make a treatment decision. While you don’t want to wait a long time to begin an action, you might have more time to think on a treatment plan than you believe. Oncologist Dr. Death tried to rush me into treatment options that, as it turned out, were wrong for me. Rushing into his treatment plan would have been detrimental for me.
Don’t compare your treatment to someone else’s. Truth is, illness is like a fingerprint, and a treatment that is excellent for one person might not be great for another.
Stay away from unsupportive support groups. Many support groups are just fine, but others can be downright harmful. At first, my support group seemed excellent, but as time passed, the individuals in the group did me more harm than good.
When it comes to unsupportive support groups, be willing to pull the plug.
These are just some of the mistakes patients should avoid, if possible to navigate the road ahead. I’ve just tapped the surface of the common mistakes patients make. Now I’d like to hear from you.
Is there anything that you would add to this list?
What is a mistake or mistakes that you made as a patient?