“We give too much authority to someone in a white coat.” – Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith
A couple of nights ago, I was watching the documentary “Heal” on Netflix (which I highly recommend you check out!) and I was struck by this quote from Dr. Beckwith. I was immediately transported back to my own experience with the medical profession during my healing crisis back in 2004.
The whole story of that journey is something that I share in my book, “You Are Not Your Diagnosis,” but in this post I’d like to hone in on this point that I find to be critical for so many people– that we give too much authority and therefore too much trust/confidence to doctors.
When I went from thinking I was a healthy 24-year-old woman who was getting ready for elective surgery to discovering in the pre-op process that my labs looked alarmingly abnormal, I was immediately cast into the realm of doctors and Western medicine. I spent close to two weeks in two different hospitals going through a battery of tests and examinations to uncover what those abnormal labs meant and what was going on with my health.
In the end, the “experts” arrived at the diagnosis of Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) and I believed that diagnosis because I trusted the medical profession. Yet over the next several years as I was told that all my lab results were looking good and yet I felt horrible (and I was turning into a walking skeleton), I knew deep inside that something was not right.
Yet despite my internal knowing that something was off, I couldn’t get my doctors to listen to me. When I would share that I still felt very ill, one of my doctors would brush that comment off with “Well you look great!” which also was not true because people would tell me not to lose any more weight because I was wasting away…
I was beginning to question my doctors and their knowledge but I was caught in a web that required me to get a referral from my primary doctor in order to see a new hematologist and for several years, my primary doctor reassured me that the current specialist was “a great doctor” despite my own experience that he was, in fact, anything BUT that.
It was only after I left graduate school and got medical insurance through a job and therefore got a new primary doctor outside of student health that I was able to finally get the long desired referral to a new hematologist, who questioned my diagnosis at our very first appointment…
Looking back at this 15 years later, I am still angered by the fact that my doctors didn’t want to listen to me. And I’m also frustrated, on some level, that I didn’t make a bigger fuss when I knew that something was wrong.
I share my story because I believe it is one that is all too common, although it is something that we don’t like to think about. Doctors make mistakes and it is probably more common than we think about.
When I work with my clients, I am a strong advocate that THEY are in charge of who gets to treat them and be on their care team. I remind them that just because someone has the title of doctor or wears a white coat doesn’t mean that we have to blindly follow them against what we know in our own guts to be right for us.
In one simple sentence, Dr. Beckwith sums up perfectly how so many of us have become conditioned to defer to doctors as the “experts” and to discount what we feel or even know to be true based on our daily lived experience in our bodies.
If you are reading this and you feel that you are seeing a doctor who doesn’t listen to you, who brushes off your shared experience, or who you just feel in your gut is not the right doctor for you, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion or to even fire your doctor.
Since my own experiences in 2004-2007, I have fired a number of doctors for not listening to me and my concerns or because I had a knowing that they were not the right doctor for me.
We need to make this a normal thing to do… to question our doctors and to be in charge of our health and healing by choosing who is on our team (from doctors to alternative practitioners).
I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you’ve ever felt like a doctor wasn’t right for you but not felt like it was acceptable to question them or “fire” them. Let’s start to make it acceptable to talk about this subject and begin to help all people feel comfortable in questioning medical professionals.