Just started reading Dr. Lisa Sanders’ book “Every Patient Tells a Story.” She writes the Diagnosis column for the NY Times, and also is a resource for the TV show House. I hadn’t seen the show, so after reading a few chapters this weekend I also watched a few episodes from season 1.
Sanders references Sherlock Holmes frequently in the book, because so many of these health issues are real mysteries. It’s interesting to think of it that way. And in the TV show, House often says that the patient lies. He doesn’t really mean that they lie, but really it’s that they don’t know the right thing to tell the doctor so that the doctor can find the cure.
It reminded me of when I had to get my appendix removed, about 8 years ago. I was working in my first job and had just had my first business trip, which was exciting but also pretty stressful. I’d also just been diagnosed with Crohn’s a few months before and was sort of getting used to the diagnosis even though I was feeling really good and was basically already in remission. My stomach was hurting really bad for hours, and so finally around 3 am I took a cab to the emergency room. The first thing I told the nurse was that I had Crohn’s disease, and in hindsight it was the worst thing I could have done. It was a busy ER, and even though I had every classic sign for appendicitis, they chalked up my symptoms to a Crohn’s flare and left me sitting there as they ushered everyone else through. Delirious with pain, I ended up calling my GI and begging him to come down to the ER and help me get admitted, which he did, and it was the only reason I was admitted – by then I’d waited 6 hours, and then after multiple tests to confirm appendicitis, I was put in surgery, a full 12 hours later.
It was a mystery, I guess, just how any other diagnosis story begins. However, the ER docs were terrible detectives because they didn’t pay attention to the clues. Yes, I had Crohn’s, but I also had every symptom for appendicitis. If they’d paid attention to that, I may not have suffered as long as I did.
Dr. Sanders’ book shows story after story just like that one. Strange symptoms and doctor’s assumptions send them down the wrong path again and again, sometimes resulting in harm and/or death. It all comes down to poor communication in a lot of ways.
Which is why this is the important thing – communication. Eye contact. The doctor spending time listening, talking, working to really figure out what’s going on. I am hoping that my doctors take a look at this book.