The Professional Patient

Somewhere in the late 1990’s I began having heart trouble. At first it was a murmur here and there with the occasional shot of pain followed by a rapid heartbeat; it got my attention. On one particular day, it was severe enough to send me to the emergency room as I had all the classic symptoms of a heart attack. It wasn’t a heart attack though and it would be four long years of hospital visits before I discovered what it was.

My first emergency room visit for those chest pains introduced me to a whole new world. Sonograms, EKG’s, and blood pressure monitors would become very familiar to me. Blood tests would become routine. The crytpo-linguistic speak of doctors that was once foreign began to infest my brain and roll off of my lips like the blabbering of a three year old. By my third or fourth visit I had become a professional patient, knowing all the routines and questions of the doctors before they even stepped into the room.

The first attack I suffered left me bedridden for almost 3 days. After test after test, the physicians diagnosis was that I needed a support group for my “anxiety”. I can’t begin to describe the anger I felt. I had undoubtedly imagined many things in my life but the pain in my chest was no delusion. If they couldn’t find something wrong, they obviously weren’t looking very well.

Four years after that first day, I encountered an educated doctor who recognized the prolapse in my mitral valve. What a relief! I really didn’t need the medication he offered (beta blockers to shrink the heart) but I did need the justification that, after so many unsuccessful hospital visits, I had finally documented that I wasn’t crazy. The horrible pains in my chest were real.

To this day, I refuse to go to the doctor unless I know what I need. The doctor does not treat me, I treat me. I merely go to the doctor for his convenient prescription pad. No more do I live under the false illusions that the doctor is responsible for my healthcare; I am responsible for my healthcare. I have no intention of being anyone’s guinea pig anymore so they can “practice” their profession.

I survived dengue in the Philippines and I also treated myself for Typhoid with nothing more than determination and an internet connection. I have fought fever and flu alike, all the time avoiding the medical clinics except when necessary. I feel quite inclined to ask medical doctors questions on things I don’t understand but I in know way feel that they are in charge: it’s my life at stake, not theirs. This attitude has kept me alive and healthy (both physically and in my wallet).

When I’m sick, I hate being the professional patient. I would love to pine away in my physical misery while the doctor consoles me with a stethoscope and gives me a prescription to make everything better. Unfortunately, healthcare is just not that simple. As long as colleges continue to churn out degrees alongside the existence of MCAT brain-dumps then I’ll have to continue to self-examine, self-medicate and recover on the values of my own personal Hippocratic oath. Sure, maybe I’m bitter at the medical profession, but I’m still very, very much alive.

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