Whoo! It’s Friday! I can’t believe that it’s a been a week since I attended a media event called Sex. Brain. Body. in Manhattan. I’ve been meaning to do a little bit of reporting on it. Sponsored by the Society for Women’s Health Research, the event featured Dr. Laura Berman, Ph.D., Oprah’s go-to sexpert, Dr. Susan Kellogg-Spadt (co-founder of The Pelvic and Sexual Health Institute of Philadelphia) and actress Lisa Rinna (known her roles on Dancing with the Stars and Melrose Place) who were all on hand to discuss a new educational campaign that focuses on female sexual health and the role the brain is thought to play in desire. There’s a lot to be said on the topic, but a week after the presentation, what keeps ringing in my head is something that Dr. Berman said to me when we sat down one-on-one. I asked her what advice she would most like to give to women who are concerned that their sexual desire is lacking. She replied, “Be your own health advocate. Stand up for yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions that you want the answers to.”
Obviously, this isn’t only applicable to women’s sexual health.
Yeah, it does seem that a lot of us get especially nervous or feel rushed or flustered when we’re face-to-face with our OB/GYNs, as opposed to a general practitioner or say, dermatologist. But Dr. Berman’s advice is crucial in any case where you’re seeking out info about your personal health.
I’ve faced a handful of medical issues in the past two years—from the extremely painful and serious (an extremely herniated disc in my lumbar spine) to the superficial and benign (an chronic itchy rash all over my upper back and face)—that molded me into a hardened veteran of personal health advocacy.
It’s really been quite educational. I’ve learned that…
…not every drug a doctor prescribes is necessary, helpful and in fact, some may actually cause side effects that are worse than the symptoms I was initially seeking treatment for. (The Pill is one thing. How about being told to take steroids because my hormone levels are slightly elevated? No thanks. Take an acid reducer indefinitely, even if my digestive troubles are just stress-induced? Why?)
…sadly, not every doctor really has my best interest at heart. (In the thick of my lower back troubles, I saw a neurosurgeon who asserted that I needed a spinal fusion surgery. When I saw another doctor for a second opinion, he said something to the effect of, “No, dear. You’re a candidate for a much less invasive procedure” and implied that the other doctor was probably looking to “ring the cash register” with a more complicated surgery that would throw a bone to medical device manufacturers.)
…some doctors are only treating stand-out symptoms or one blood test result or diagnosis. I’ve heard from doctors themselves that this happens for many reasons: Because a doctor always goes “by the book,” because they’re rushed, because they’re exhausted, because they’re burned out (just like an 80 year-old biology teacher I had in high school who never taught and handed out worksheets every single day), because they’re pressured by drug companies, because they’re underpaid and over-scheduled and generally pissed off.
Please understand, my aim here is not to bash any and every doctor. I’ve happily met quite a few health practitioners lately who are deeply committed to treating their patients holistically, striving to help them feel not just well—but vital. I just want to make a case for why it is so very important to stand up for yourself when it comes to your health.
A few tricks of the trade I’ve made habits of: Research your symptoms or your diagnosis online or by asking friends or family members who may have had the same issue. Write down what you want to ask your doctor before your appointment, and bring your questions with you. (Sometimes I’ll procrastinate and find myself typing up my Qs or key points using the Notes feature on my iPhone while in the waiting room.) Ask about the side effects and necessity of your prescriptions. Of course, some drugs that you’re prescribed are necessary, but it seems that many prescriptions are written arbitrarily. For instance, why take antibiotics for a viral infection? When doctors use vague terms to describe a condition or a procedure, ask them if they could please clarify. Someone very close to me actually saw a doctor recently who referred to the patient’s anus as “you know, where you go.” True story. That’s when she knew it was time to find another doctor. Don’t wait for multiple red flags to pop up before looking for a compassionate health care provider. Dr. Berman told me that when it comes to finding the right doctor, your search may require that you kiss a few frogs before you find your prince or princess.
Bottom-line: No one else will (or really should) care about your health and well-being as much as you. So, if you must, declare a war, fight a battle or just get a little fired up when talking to someone in a lab coat, because it’ll always be worth it. You owe it to you.
Check out a little further reading here.