Sunday, November 16, 2008

An Unhealthy Preoccupation

I am sick, and tired, and I am a damned bad patient. As a compulsive autodidact, one of the things I do too much reading about is health, partly because I have to for my paying work (which I've just barely caught up on after a hell week of deadlines, meaning I can't do any of the fun work) and partly because I want to know what's up with my body (and those of the ones I love. To a certain extent.).

But here's the fun part--when you go into a doctor's office, you have to pretend you don't know any of the things you know. I guess I'm lucky to have doctors that explain things carefully and slowly and present me with some options. But most of what they're explaining (when it comes to a chronic problem I'm working hard to heal) is something I've researched days, months, or even years ago.

But at the doctor's office, I keep my mouth shut. Knowing too much about health generally pisses medical folks off. You get condescension, then resentment, then hints that you're a psycho. You're not supposed to be reading and learning about these things; it implies an unhealthy preoccupation and hypochondria. How many women do I know who have gone to their doctors with this study and that about a health issue and been pushed off with an offer to prescribe an anti-depressant (the go-to panacea of the internist and gyn alike)? Too many. Years ago, I would get tsked at and warned when I said I was taking supplements such as fish oil; now I'm regularly being told to do so, as if I'll find it some great revelation.

I'm not saying I'm as capable as someone who's gone to med school and practiced forever. I know all the reading I do will never make it so I could do surgery, or even fix a car or a sink for that matter. And I'm wildly in awe of those who can do all these things.

It just bothers me to have to hide what I do know. Med professionals at all levels should know by now that it's in everyone's self interest to have self-educated patients, but they don't seem to want to let that get above a certain level.

Try having a baby, for instance. You'll be told that you're the one in control of the process, that you're part of a team, all sorts of nonsense. But the nurses, goddess bless them, will clue you to the realities: If you have a healthy labor, stay away from the hospital and do it yourself as long as you can get away with it, because once you come in the door, I'll have to put you on a fetal monitor so we won't get sued, and you'll be stuck flat on your back, unable to move naturally, and your chances of having a c-section will start climbing. Tell your doctor that, and she or he will likely scoff at any connection.

And about that c-section "decision": Get one, and from one side you'll be painted as a spoiled weakling; say you want to avoid one, and from the other side you'll be painted as a selfish nutjob. We've got not one politician or two but an entire medical industry that still puts "health of the woman" in air quotes, and I'm not, jesus why do I even have to make this clear, speaking only about the abortion issue. It's made very difficult for a woman to own responsibility for any even small aspect of her health.

For women, staying on top of the sometimes weird ways of medicine imposed "for her own good" has long been a matter of survival. And hey, guys, now that every other pharmaceutical ad is being aimed at you, urging you to try something new for something you're not even sure is wrong with you, you better get on that train, too. Just remember to play dumb when you hit the doctor's office. I know you haven't had as much practice at playing dumb as some of us women have, but maybe we can give you some tips.

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