I'm not really sure this post is worth reading. But since it helps me to put words down to understand what's going on in my life I thought I'd give it a try. And this, rather long, very personal post, is the result. I'm not sure it's even worth reading for anyone other than me, but, here it is:
That has changed quite a bit in the past year and a half. I've found now that while I value the information and advice that I receive from my doctors, I'm also not quite as ready to abandon my own instincts because someone has told me that they think that it's the best thing for me.
The road that lead to this change in perspective, and reasoning, wasn't easy and tonight as I began to think back over the bumps, some big and some small, I was surprised that the loss of blind trust didn't come quite a bit earlier.
I think that in part, that's probably because the first doctor that I remember going to was so great. He was one of those fantastic small town family practice doctors that searches tirelessly for answers when there's a problem. And yet even back then I had my first glimpse of less than stellar advice when my headaches began and our doctor, having exhausted every possibility he could think of, sent me to an allergist in "the city." The allergist referral was a great idea. The allergist himself, not so much.
My mom and I were called back into an exam room and the doctor entered. He began to lecture my mom about my stress level. Look at her sitting in a waiting room reading a book. I was obviously under an incredible amount of pressure. He told her to reduce my stress level and refused to run a single test.
It would be another 19 years of migraines before we discovered that 3 common food allergies triggered my headaches and that by avoiding those particular foods I could have 4 migraines a year instead of 4 migraines a week.
I wish the man had simply run the allergy test on that day so many years ago. It would have saved me hundreds of migraines.
I went back to the school's health center over and over again as the problems increased. Pain shot down my legs. My lower back was swollen. I was told I'd pulled a muscle and that I was okay to practice. And so I kept playing after being told that I could (not very bright, I know). When I finally sought out a "second" opinion (which was really more like a 5th opinion since I'd been in to the health center so many times) the orthopedic surgeon immediately declared that there was a major problem and ordered rounds of tests to confirm a herniated and later ruptured disk (while explaining that full contact sports were a no-no... forever... which took out my three main activities: karate, surfing and rugby... none of which were easy on my body).
Next to come was the moment that would result in my major fear of needles being allowed anywhere near my spine. I was 22 when I went in for my fourth epidural in a year as a result of the damaged disk. It was the type of unpleasant procedure where you had to be awake, while heavily sedated, so that they know they've injected the right spot. I think that I had started screaming when they ordered the two injections of morphine. Something was different this time. Something was wrong. And then the morphine hit my system and I was instantly better. I felt great. There was nothing to worry about. They sent me home an hour later and I was fine.
Finally I received an incredibly odd call (that bothers me to this day). There was an alumni at my school who I knew casually who had asked me out several times (who I never went on a single date with). He was in the healthcare field (but wasn't a doctor or nurse) and I knew that he was friends with the surgeon who had performed my epidurals. He called me to "check in." He'd talked to my surgeon and knew that "things had gone wrong." He'd actually been told far more about the procedure and what had happened than I had. My doctor had asked him and asked him to call me to see how I was.
I was extremely, extremely bothered by the call... whatever happened to doctor/patient confidentiality? But I actually liked the doctor, and knew that the medical mistake wasn't malicious (and thought that what he'd shared just showed incredibly poor judgement) and so I never said a word, although it seemed like something that was certainly an ethical breach.
I talked about miscarrying alone in the ER after calling for help. I don't think I ever told you how, when I ordered my medical records I found that they'd been changed to include exams by doctors that never entered my room (I didn't see a doctor in either of my visits while I was miscarrying). The exam records were dated as being recorded after I began questioning the thousands of dollars of bills that I received, but before I wrote a 20 page document detailing everything that happened and received forgiveness for the bills, along with a two page apology (that also explained how no one who I saw in the hospital worked for the hospital) from the hospital. The woman who read my description of events actually began shaking as she reached the second page, before assuring Paul that the situation would be addressed immediately.
I've talked here about my extreme illness in the three months that followed and how I repeatedly sought help from doctors and was told that it was all in my head and that nothing was wrong with me... and many of you prayed for me until finally, after many trips to the hospital and doctor's office, I found a doctor who did another (more invasive) ultrasound and instantly saw that I'd retained the placenta and ordered a D&C (the anniversary of that surgery was three days ago).
It was that night at the hospital, during the miscarriage, that began the change the way I thought about going to the doctor or the hospital. I realize that I'm now extremely vigilant when it comes to my own medical treatment. I want to know what's going on. I want to know what the risks and benefits of my treatment options are. And I know that listening to my gut when something doesn't feel right can be lifesaving.
I'm really, really happy with the treatment I received at the hospital this past month while I was ill. It actually restore a lot of my faith in the medical community after the trauma of my treatment during the miscarriage. I feel incredibly lucky to have found my current doctor, although I'll admit that I'm not a huge fan of his office partner. And I do believe that his advice, even on the epidural, is well intentioned (apparently for some my previous post didn't convey that to everyone).
But I also believe that "standard operating procedure" in OB cases often tends to be overly cautious as a result of the many malpractice lawsuits that occur in our country. I don't blindly accept that doing something just so a doctor can say he acted proactively, necessarily results in the best treatment for either the mother or the baby. I think it's often a case of doing something, simply so, if anything goes wrong, it can be said that "something was done."
I do believe that one intervention often leads to another and would like to avoid the slippery slope that could lead to an unnecessary c-section #3. If a c-section is necessary I will readily agree to it. However I'd rather not do anything that will help speed up the process if it can be avoided.
Having researched (and personally experienced) the risks of having a large needle stabbed into my spine is the reason that I will be refusing the standard advice that I received. Knowing how being flat on my back would reduce the likelihood of success during this birth also plays a major roll in wanting to avoid this particular intervention if it can be helped.
As I enter into this final week of my pregnancy, I'm praying that things go smoothly. I'm expecting them to go smoothly. I trust my doctor, just not blindly. I'll be using my brain and my instincts to weigh what I'm told and to make decisions for myself. I'm sure I'll agree to much of what is suggested, sometimes less than enthusiastically (no to the epidural, but okay to being hooked up to a monitor and having a heplock...), and will say no to other "standard" options. And I'll be flexible as we go along, because it's childbirth and things can happen fast.
Looking back over this post, I guess my biggest realization isn't that any of the doctors mentioned above were intentionally insensitive, incompetent or cruel (okay, with the exception of the guy who told me that the massive bleeding I was experiencing was "psychological"). However I have realized that doctors are human and that they make mistakes. Abandoning my own intellect and ignoring my instincts to trust in a diagnosis that just doesn't seem right, has never turned out well for me... and I've finally found my own voice while in these sometimes tense situations. I've learned that I can be polite but adamant and stand up for myself and take responsibility for my own medical decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions.