I feel both deeply blessed, and deeply cursed, by my dual identities of practitioner and patient. Quite literally, my medical background has saved my life, more than once.
I have experienced varying degrees of allergic reactions to iodine/IVP contrast dye, to Thyrolar, to methotrexate injections, and to Zofran. In each instance, my medical knowledge allowed me to act more quickly than other patients, receiving help as soon as possible.
My medical background has also shortened the period of time between my onset of symptoms, and reception of diagnoses. I’ve often thought that no one truly understands the lived experience of dealing with chronic illness like patients themselves.
Experiencing such illnesses limits the abilities of those patients with chronic illness who may have intended to pursue medical careers. Personally, I never initially planned to become a psychologist.
My goal was to be an adademic physician. My plans were unexpectedly derailed by having been diagnosed with MS. The majority of healthcare providers, especially physicians, have been blessed with robust health. If not, how else could they have withstood the grueling demands of extended periods of undergraduate education, medical school, internship, and specialized residencies? Such mental and emotional stamina is critical to forge a physician, regardless of his/her specialty.
Personally, I want my healthcare specialists to be in excellent health. I crave the reassurance that they are in peak physical, mental, and emotional health, so that they can best address my persistent symptoms.
Nevertheless, these very qualities make it especially difficult for practitioners to respond empathetically to those who live with the harsh realities of chronic illness. These interactions are potentially even more problematic when patients with chronic illness appear relatively healthy.
Whenever possible, I try to share my personal experiences with my physicians, in order to enhance their sensitivity to other patients’ experiences. I try to emphasize the extent to which chronic illness has turned my entire life upside down and inside out, regardless of how good I may look, during a brief, 10-minute office interaction.