My clients often see doctors and other practitioners to help them manage a long-term illness or chronic condition. Some of these practitioners are considered complementary, alternative, or integrative, and some are of the more conventional variety.
Regardless of who my clients see, part of my job as a Mind-body Wellness Coach is to help them ask good questions about their situation and their treatments, so they:
Understand their condition (e.g. what exactly is a herniated disc?)
Educate themselves about any meditations they may be taking (e.g. side-effects, interactions, etc.)
Know which of their normal activities or behaviors they should / should not be doing — including why and for roughly how long
Understand why a therapeutically recommended diet was recommended for their condition
Understand exactly how to do any exercises provided
Get the attention and explanations they need to these and any other questions or concerns
When I ended up in the ER a few nights ago, I was reminded just how challenging this is to do when you’re feeling down and in an urgent situation. I plan to learn from this experience, and I hope the tips I share with you better equip you for such an experience should you ever find yourself in it.
My Experience as a Patient
I’d been suffering from some sort of infection–the kind that started with a typical March cold, but never completely went away. I had weeks of on-and-off headaches (which I never get), jaw pain, neck pain, and a sore throat that just wouldn’t let up. All this with lots of malaise, little appetite or sleep, and much more time on the sofa watching “Suits” than I’d like to admit.
After a little over a week, I went to my doctor who prescribed a Z-pack (Azithromycin). I read the entire printout from the pharmacy but was suffering so much, I made a mental note about “QT interval prolongation” (a heart rhythm issue) and took it anyhow. For the record, heart issues seem to run in my family, and I’ve had a few past incidents where my heart was of mild concern.
That Saturday I went to the urgent care center because I was in so much throat/neck pain I couldn’t take it anymore. They swabbed my throat to check for strep, which came back negative. My options were to continue the Z-pack and/or get an anti-inflammatory steroid injection. When I asked about the side-effects of the injection, the doctor indicated I could feel “wired” for the rest of the day. I declined, personally preferring to avoid steroids wherever I can.
The following Sunday night / Monday morning, I went to the ER because my throat felt so swollen I couldn’t swallow, and I felt I was having trouble breathing. I was also incredibly dizzy from days and nights of not being able to eat nor sleep. Many things went well at the ER, including how quickly I was able to get out of the waiting room and treated. However two things struck me as having room for improvement:
Many tests were done. I failed to get clear results.
I didn’t get the information I wanted to about the steroid injection I ended up having before having it.
Add to that the fact that I should have done more research about the original Z-pack prescription–in writing this post I discovered several articles citing FDA warnings about Azithromycin use and heart problems–I recognize that I need help to be more assertive in a time when I’m not feeling very strong.
The Emergency / Urgent Care Checklist
I’m a fan of checklists, and so I’m creating one for this situation. I’ll print it, put it in a convenient place, and take it the next time I need to urgently see a health care provider. I’m sharing with you in the hopes that it will make your urgent doctor’s visits more helpful.
I’ve provided an updated list of my current medications / supplements / herbs (printout and carry with checklist)
I’ve provided an updated list of anything I’m known to be allergic to (both from allergy tests & personal experience!)
I’ve provided a complete list of my symptoms, including a clear timeline if possible (or I have someone close to me who can help explain)
What is this test? (if unknown) / What are we looking for / why are we doing it? (e.g. blood work, x-rays, etc.)
What are the results of (each) test? Can I have copies of the results to share with my other providers please?
What is your diagnosis / conclusion?
What are my options for treatment? What are the pros / cons of each? Which would you recommend and why?
Can I have a printout describing the drug and its side effects please? (prior to administration)
What symptoms / reactions / improvements should I look for in the next few days? How should I follow up?
(If necessary) Can you look at me please?
You may of course add to this if, while in a healthy state, you can think of other things that you may want to be reminded about when you’re not so healthy.
It’s Your Life at Stake
One more thing: when talking with doctors like this there many be a tendency to feel like, well, a PITA. Doctors are human too, and they don’t remember everything about every patient. Some may not appreciate your questions. But I have seen first hand–independent of this experience–cases where a patient having / knowing information about tests and drugs is LIFE SAVING. So stand up for yourself and get the information you (and your loved ones) need to make an informed decision.