Are doctors actually helpful?

A friend started medical school today. I bit my tongue. I wanted so badly to ask what he actually hopes to accomplish by being a doctor. Does he really think he’ll help people? Because I’m not so sure.

Ok, to be fair, some doctors are helpful. If I had cancer, I’d probably want to see a doctor. Ditto if I had a heart attack. Some of them are useful. Just not the ones I’ve seen.

The other day I posted about doing some genetic testing. I wanted to see if I had a mutation on the MTHFR gene. I had asked my primary care doctor for the test, but he said they prefer to run an MMA test to check enzyme levels. If that test is abnormal, then they run the other. This sounds logical except for 1 glaring fact: the MTHFR mutation doesn’t reduce the number of enzymes, it reduces their efficacy! So I have the right number of enzymes, but they only function at about 30% of what they should! So the MMA test was normal. But the test I chose to pay for and run on my own shows that I have the mutation afterall (the A1298C mutation, for those who are interested) and it’s homozygous, meaning I have the mutation from both parents. If I had listened to my doctor, I’d never have known.

Last week I posted about my frustrations with indicative lab results from years ago that I just discovered. Of course, that was just one example. I have found many lab tests that showed important keys to my health problems and that, if they’d been addressed, could have helped to prevent my current level of poor health. The doctors knew enough to run the tests, but not to address the results!

There was the doctor who told me that there was nothing to be done for my pain, that I’d seen plenty of good doctors, and that I should just learn to live with it and stop seeking medical treatment. I was 19. And I stupidly took his advice for several years.

There was the doctor who told me I wasn’t lactose intolerant. He didn’t suggest doing anything to help me with my constant digestive problems, he just said that I wasn’t lactose intolerant. I was young and intimidated and scared and didn’t push him. Going through medical records last night, I found the note from the specialist he had consulted. She had suggested further testing and potential causes for my problems. He never did any of those tests or followed up in any way. It took another 12 years, 3 gastroenterologists, 1 naturopath, and a lot of my own research to figure out I had leaky gut, Celiac Disease, and IBS.

A pediatric surgeon told me that the Olympic gymnasts (the Olympics were currently taking place) managed to compete with worse pain than I had so I shouldn’t be so upset by it. I was 16. I drove right to my best friend’s house and cried.\

When my fatigue stuck around long after my mono was gone, my doctor kept telling me to give it more time. She kept insisting I’d get better in a few more months. I never did. She never once considered that the mono virus triggered an autoimmune condition, even though that’s a well known possibility. It took another 10 years before I figured out that connection.

I can’t count how many times I asked for tests that doctors said were unnecessary, only to later find out that I did indeed have the things I wanted to test for.

I told a doctor that I felt instinctively that my wrist pain, back pain, and knee pain were all related. He insisted I was wrong. It took many years to find out I was right.

The doctor who first diagnosed me with an autoimmune condition ordered an ANA test. Then he flipped through the huge stack of medical records I had given him and found two previous ANA tests that were both high. They weren’t high enough for a diagnosis, but they were high enough that they should have been flagged. They weren’t. I should have been retested regularly. I wasn’t. I have no idea if more than those two were run. Of course, his test came back incredibly high and I got the diagnosis that week. I’d had symptoms for 11 years. That was already more than 11 years ago, and I’m still getting more diagnoses.


Ok, you’re probably wondering what the point of this post is. I started with something else in mind and it has turned into a rant, and I’m ok with that. These days I’m feeling unusually frustrated and angry about my past health care. So I’m letting it out. And I hope that maybe this somehow falls into the hands of a medical school curriculum designer who can start making the necessary changes to doctors’ training. Because some of us don’t fall into the neat boxes that doctors are trained to search out. Some of us have messy health problems. And we deserve the same great care as the people who fall into those neat boxes.

There are some fantastic doctors out there. I’ve had one or two of them. And I hope my friend becomes another one. But I remain weary. I see doctors because I must. I see doctors because I want my lab tests paid for by insurance, because I need prescriptions and would rather get them legally, and because occasionally they are able to help me with a simpler problem. But I’m continuing to do my own research. I’m continuing to be vigilant. And I’m continuing to be distrustful. And after reading just a few of the many ways I’ve been screwed over, can you blame me?

Please add your own story in the comments. Vent a little and get it out of your system!

8 Responses to Are doctors actually helpful?

  1. I kept telling my old GI that I was tired. I switched to a new GI and told them the same thing. They did an iron deficiency test and it turned out I was anemic. Who knows how long that had been going on.

  2. I cannot vent enough about doctors, notably ones who tell you to ignore your pain. That guy who mentioned Olympic gymnasts … ugh. If you are an athlete, you accept that being in pain goes with your CHOSEN vocation. Since you are not an athlete or ballerina, the analogy does not work logically. On the bright side, at least the didn’t send you to a psychiatrist, who might have told you that your pain was a result of unresolved emotional issues. Ugh. Well, maybe you can enlighten your friend the future doctor.

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