The best thing a doctor can say to me is, “I don’t know.” Well, ok, that’s a lie. The best thing is, “Here’s a cure.” But if they don’t know the answer, then the best thing is, “I don’t know.” As soon as a doctor says that, I know I want to keep seeing them.
The problem is, too many won’t admit when they don’t know the answer. Of course, this isn’t a problem that’s unique to the medical profession. I know plenty of people who do this in their jobs and outside of their jobs, because they think that there’s something wrong with admitting they don’t know absolutely everything about a topic. I’ve had a lot of problems because of that kind of attitude in the past, so now I know to watch for it and avoid it.
Last week I mentioned that my finger was swollen and painful and that I was happy to ignore it. Well, after a few days it got numb and changed colors, so I thought maybe I should get it checked out. My primary care physician (PCP) wasn’t in, so I saw a physician’s assistant (PA) in her office. The PA said it was infected and prescribed antibiotics. She didn’t seem completely confident, but it did make sense. She told me to come back if it wasn’t much better in 48 hours. Three days later I saw her again. The discoloration was worse and the skin had hardened. She said that she thought it was healing, but clearly she wasn’t sure. She got a nurse practitioner and the NP told me that she thought it was getting better, and if it didn’t get better by the time I finished my antibiotics in 4 more days, then I should let her know and they would send me to a “hand doctor.” Yes, she actually said “hand doctor” to me! I didn’t like her lack of confidence, and when I mentioned that I was seeing my rheumatologist this week, she was clearly relieved. She exhaled and said that I should definitely have my rheum take a look.
She punted me.
She didn’t know what was going on, but instead of saying it, she told me to wait and see what happened, then to go to someone else if it didn’t heal. What kind of attitude is that?!? (And yes, I plan to leave this office after I get some insurance issues worked out – clearly they are not the right ones for me.) If she had told me she wasn’t sure what was happening, I would have respected her honesty. Instead, I found myself distrustful of both the PA and the NP, and nervous about what was happening with my finger.
I did see my rheum. She didn’t know what was happening, but she was honest about it. She felt that it was an infection that was healing, but the spread of the discoloration made her wonder if there was an infection under the nail. She said that she didn’t have the tools to check that, and it wasn’t her field anyway, so she wanted me to see my dermatologist. She asked who I saw, and was pleased that it’s someone she considers to be very good. I asked her if I should wait until I finish the antibiotics to see what happens and she said no, that I should be seen as soon as possible. Now THAT’S how you handle an uncertainty! She told me what she thought was going on, admitted that she wasn’t sure, told me which specialist to see, and insisted I address it immediately. BINGO! There are many reasons I love my rheum, and that’s a big one.
I’m going to see the dermatologist later today. I have seen many people in that office and liked them all. I am seeing a PA today who I have never seen before, because she was the only one with a last-minute opening. Still, I trust that they will treat me right, as they have before. And I refuse to be punted again. I want answers or recommendations, and I won’t accept anything else.
I also have a great respect for doctors who are honest and tell me they simple don’t know. And I LOVE your definition of being ‘punt’ed by the medical community. I have been punted so many times and am smiling having gained a new word to describe something so painful at times. Thanks for the great post!
Thanks 🙂 Now we just have to teach them the word – and how to avoid doing it!