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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Patient Angst: When You Just Have To Say ‘No’ To The Doctor


                                                                  
  
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Dr. Annie Brewster, who has MS, struggled over the decision to reject her own doctor’s advice.
By Dr. Annie Brewster
Guest Contributor

Like most doctors, I am an overachiever and I have always been a “good” student. Throughout my education, I perfected the art of making my teachers happy. I made it through prep school, college at Stanford University and Harvard Medical School with high honors. I am used to doing what’s expected of me, and doing it well. I thrive on the rewards associated with such behavior.
But now, as a patient with Multiple Sclerosis, I find myself in an unfamiliar role. I am deliberately choosing to ignore my doctors advice. He wants me to be on medication, but I quit a month ago. While I trust that I am doing the right thing, I can’t help but feel that I am a “bad” patient, a disappointment. Undoubtedly, part of this is due to my neurotic, overachiever tendencies. My doctor has not reprimanded me. He has simply made his opinion clear, as he should. Still, I sense a subtle disapproval and I feel misunderstood and boxed in, like he doesn’t really see the whole me.
Because I sit on both sides — as doctor and patient — I am especially interested in exploring these feelings. Why do I feel like a disappointment? Is there such a thing as a “bad” patient? When should we listen to our doctors, and when should we not? As patients, are we free to disagree?
As a physician, I would like to say that doctors do not classify patients as “good” or “bad”, but I can’t. Consciously and unconsciously, and of course in varying degrees, we do. To be honest, my job is easiest when a patient accepts the diagnosis I provide, understands my explanation of the disease process and the pros and cons of various treatment options and ultimately follows my recommendations. It is particularly satisfying when patients do what I say, get better and then express gratitude. A neat and tidy package, wrapped up and sealed. A sense of mastery.
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