An Open Letter to Doctors- From Sick & Frustrated Patients

An open letter to doctors from frustrated patients.
Copyright: stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo

To all the doctors out there,

I think it’s time we have a chat.  Really, it’s not fair to limit this talk to just doctors, though.  This is really to all medical professionals.  Doctors, nurses, medical assistants, nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, and so many others.  It’s time for us to talk about the things that so many of your patients are thinking and feeling but can’t bring themselves to say to you.

There is a basic formula for how the doctor-patient relationship must work in order for people to remain healthy.  It goes a little something like this:

competent and compassionate doctor + cooperative patient = relatively good health

There is one rather large component missing here, though.  None of this will work, not one bit of it, without trust.  Trust is the MOST critical piece of the working relationship between doctors and patients.  The trust between medical professionals and patients is absolutely critical.  If patients don’t trust their doctors to really listen to them and believe what they say, they won’t follow the doctor’s care instructions.  If doctors don’t trust their patients to follow their care instructions, they won’t the show compassion their patients need and won’t admit when they don’t know what is happening.

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I don’t know when or why the trust between patients and practitioners began eroding, but has reached crisis level.  As your patients we desperately want and need to trust you, but we just can’t anymore.  You, as a collective group, have stopped listening to  us.  Sure, you hear us just fine.  You hear us describe our symptoms and concerns, but you don’t truly LISTEN.  If our complaints fit easily into one of the tidy boxes described in medical textbooks we are good to go.  You will quickly and competently treat our ailments.  If, on the other hand, our symptoms are a bit more mysterious, we are likely out of luck.  We are dismissed as being tired, or stressed, or depressed.  At this point, we give up on western medicine and choose to go another route.  For some that has meant choosing a natural doctor, for others they self-diagnose and treat with natural remedies, and for far too many (me included), we just stop trying to find help and suffer in silence.

Did you catch that last part?  You have patients out there who would rather live with their pain and sickness than risk being dismissed and talked down to by doctors! They have been so beaten down by a medical system that has been designed to value medical training over patient’s instincts about their own bodies that they have just stopped trying to seek out help.  I have been that patient.  After going to several doctors about the pain, fatigue, headaches, and other symptoms I was having I got tired of being told that it was probably ‘just stress’ because I ‘had a lot of kids’.  So, I just stopped asking for help.  I spent 4 years getting increasingly worse.  Did I bother to go back to my primary doctor in those 4 years and ask for more help?  Nope, because I knew there was no point.  My past experience had shown me that doctors were there to help if I had an obvious infection or injury, but short of that I was out of luck.  My symptoms were going to require a bit of investigation and that didn’t happen.  Finally, in a moment of misery and utter desperation, I went to a new doctor and made one last appeal for help.

Praise the Lord, I found a doctor who still trusted patients.  After running a number of tests he found my Vitamin D levels were EXTREMELY low.  They were less than 1/4 of the ideal range, and less than half the level to be considered ‘seriously deficient’.  For all these years a serious health risk was ignored by doctors because they didn’t trust my instincts since my symptoms didn’t quite fit in the box.  For many of those years I stopped trying to get help because I stopped trusting doctors to actually be helpful.  In the end, we all lost out.  I lost out on years of health and wellness, on countless hours I could have spent with my family if I hadn’t been too exhausted or in too much pain.  My doctors lost out on the opportunity to help someone feel well (isn’t that why you go into medicine in the first place) and the opportunity to learn from my case so that they could help other patients in the future.

All of this could have been prevented if we had just trusted each other.  Millions of sick people around the world could be well again if you, the doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals of the world would do something that is simultaneously simple and incredibly hard.  If you would look at a patient whose symptoms seem vague and mysterious and say, “I don’t know what is going on, but I’m going to investigate until we figure it out.”  Please, doctors of the world, please start trusting your patients again so we can be well.


A patient who is sick and tired of being sick and tired

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Annette
    Yes, this. I know so many people in the same boat. I have been suffering with various "weird" symptoms for years. I am not a great self advocate. When my primary care physician didn't sound interested, I just let it go. I wasn't feeling so bad I couldn't function, after all. Years later I decided I had to get this thing figured out. My daughter had celiac: maybe I did too. So I insisted on every blood test under the sun with my new PCP. They all came back negative / normal except for moderately low iron, and I think it would have stopped there if I hadn't pursued it. She referred me to a rheumatologist, who diagnosed fibromyalgia within minutes. Of course, that's a "do nothing" diagnosis add I'm still not sure how deeply I believe in it as the cause of all my symptoms, but at least someone finally took me seriously when I said "I hurt all the time and it's not joints and not muscles and not skin but it's real." If my first PCP had been just a little more approachable and interested in more than checking off my "yearly physical" box... Well, at least I would have started on learning how to manage or reduce symptoms. Ugh. I still need to find a pro to help me figure out my food triggers. And the task exhausts me mentally.
    1. heather
      It’s frustrating, isn’t it? We shouldn’t have to fight so hard to get someone to listen and take us seriously!

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