My Healthcare and I – A Critical View

You shall not self-diagnose

With today’s overabundance of information readily available on the internet, there appears to be a growing trend for people to skip the visit to the doctor, and instead look up their symptoms online.

Apparently, in 60% of the cases they come to an incorrect conclusion, misdiagnose themselves, and in the end go see the doctor with their mind already made up about the cause of their suffering. This must be quite annoying for a doctor, I imagine.

There clearly is a dichotomy, which prompted scores of articles and recommendations advising people to stop self-diagnosing online, and encouraging them to seek the help of a professional.

This, of course, is sensible advice. Or is it?

 

Strike One    

Speeding Ambulance

Speeding Ambulance

After arriving in Canada, my husband – an aircraft engineer – was not able to find work in his field. Since he’s also passionate about cars and quite handy, too, he managed to get a job in a small car repair shop. But it was hard, exhausting work and after a while he started feeling sick – experiencing an acute pain on the right side of the abdomen, which also irradiated to the back, often accompanied by nausea and dizziness. He couldn’t sleep because of the pain, which seemed to get more intense in the early morning hours. He took painkillers, but those only brought temporary relief and gave him stomach problems almost immediately.

Appendicitis? Kidney stones? he thought, and went to the walk-in clinic. The doctor briefly listened to him, told him right off the bat he doesn’t believe it’s either of those, but was kind enough to order some tests.

After about a month – during which my husband had no diagnosis, no treatment and was in almost constant pain – when the tests finally came in the doctor looked at him and said in a rather aggravated tone, “Mister X, you do not have cancer. All tests are good, you’re in perfect health.”

While this certainly was good news, my husband dared asking, “But… what about my pain?”

“It’s nothing, just take some Advil.”

 

Strike Two

The problem of pain, to paraphrase C.S Lewis, is that it’s there and it hurts, and doesn’t leave you until you address its cause.

Stones

Stones

About two years and three car repair shops later, the pain was still there and my husband was feeling worse and worse. He now suspected either kidney stones or some liver affection.

He went to the clinic again and received a recommendation for an abdominal echography at the hospital. It took three months to get an appointment at the said hospital.

The echography was not done by a doctor, but by a technician who knew how to work with the echograph. The person took images of the entire abdomen – except in the place where it hurt!

When my husband pointed that out, the person replied that he knows his job and knows where to take images so that all organs are visible.

Another almost three months passed for the committee of doctors to convene and assess the results of all the tests run at the hospital. So after another half a year of waiting with no diagnosis, no treatment and almost constant pain, the results came in and… they were good: the test showed nothing wrong, my husband was in perfect health.

There was a note though, mentioning that the hepatic ansa was not visible – naturally, since the guy hadn’t taken any image of it! If this isn’t disconcerting, then I don’t know what is…

My husband very well described the situation in just three words:

indifference, incompetence and inefficiency.     

 

No Human Touch

There is – we feel – too little human touch, too little desire to listen, to assess, and to correctly diagnose and treat a patient.hands_combines_human

There is, however, a strong trend to leave everything up to a computer: scores of high-tech (and very expensive) tests, with the results generally being interpreted by… a computer. The doctors have been turned into readers of computer-generated result, with no need to judge on their own. Or maybe they are afraid, or even forbidden, to think “outside the box”. It’s no wonder they’re losing interest in their trade. And it’s no wonder they’re losing their ability to be inquisitive and search for answers when they’re faced with a case that doesn’t fit in a computerized scheme.

But, like an older article titled “No Human Touch” very well noted, “replacing human judgments with computer programs may produce a system that does not respond to human needs.”

 

Is A Vegan Diet The Answer?

I stumbled upon a very interesting book, The China Study. After reading it we gradually switched to a mostly vegan diet, and my husband’s pain almost disappeared! Quite unbelievable after all these years…

But came Christmas time, he timidly asked: could we, at least during the holidays, have some meat?

Well, okay, I agreed. Why ruin the Christmas cheer? Thus, products we hadn’t had in quite a while, like meat, sausages, bacon, ham… all started to fill our fridge. I cooked two days in a row, but it was well worth the effort. Everybody enjoyed the food. The whole family sitting together, the nice dinner, the Christmas songs, the snow outside – everything was perfect!

Shortly afterwards my husband started feeling sick again: abdominal pain, sometimes on the right side where the liver is, sometimes on the left side where the pancreas is. It might have been exhaustion from the snow shoveling, because we had a lot of snow that Christmas. But both he and I knew that some overeating might have been involved there, too.

By New Year’s he couldn’t bear it anymore and went to the nearby hospital – from where, after about eight hours of waiting and one blood test, he came back just as he went.

 

Moself_Doctor_clip_art_mediumStrike Three

The doctor on duty that morning listened to his complaints with fairly little interest, ordered a simple blood test (which – in our dilettante opinion – could not have accurately revealed any liver, kidney or intestinal problems) and, since the results of the test were within normal range, he concluded that my husband was in perfect health. Later we found that liver tests are not ‘’standard” and are only prescribed in special situations.   

“But I’m in pain!” my husband argued.

“Ah, I wouldn’t worry about it,” the doctor reassured him. Indeed, why would a doctor worry about a patient’s pain, right?

“Try taking some Tylenol,” he suggested as he showed him out.

Any further protests on the part of my hubby were dismissed in the same, nonchalant manner.

At the exit there was a mail box with the inscription “Complaints”, inviting patients to leave their comments in case of objections or concerns about the way they were treated.

But of course my husband, who was feeling too sick from the pain and from the exhausting wait, preferred to return home and lie down for a rest.

Besides, he wasn’t convinced that a letter put in the “Complaints” box would reach anybody important in the hospital; and, even if it would eventually land on the desk of a decision maker, it would most likely be ignored. Just another dissatisfied malingerer.

 

Has the Hippocratic spirit gone extinct?

“In purity and according to divine law will I carry out my life and my art.” (from the Hippocratic Oath)

Perhaps our opinion about doctors is unfair. I do believe that there are good, knowledgeable doctors out there who truly care for their patients.    

Unfortunately for my hubby, in the almost 12 years since we moved to Canada, one single doctor out of many has really seemed to take interest in helping him. My husband’s unfavorable opinion – about doctors and generally about the Canadian healthcare system – merely stems from his own experience in local hospitals and clinics: the system doesn’t really seem to care about our health. This is the (inconvenient) truth.

 

The Last Straw

It was sometime after Easter when my husband felt sick again. This time he went to a new nearby clinic drink_on_beach_204171in the hope to find a knowledgeable doctor who could recognize the symptoms and give him a diagnosis, and maybe a treatment, too. Yet again he did some tests. After the results came in he went to see the doctor to discuss the results.

Surprise #1: well, not really a surprise; all test results were in normal range, he was perfectly healthy.

Surprise #2: the doctor briefly looked at the results without commenting much, then left the office and never came back! After about 10 minutes another doctor, a younger lady, came in, looked at the results and said,

“Mr. X, the results are good but your cholesterol is a wee bit on the high side.”

Surprise #3: the lady took out her… iPhone. “Google says that you have 18% chances of suffering a heart-attack in the next ten years.”

While they’re trying to dissuade people to search online for a diagnosis!

Surprise #4: the lady went on, “I am prescribing you cholesterol-lowering medication. But you will need to return to the clinic every month for testing, because this medication weakens the heart muscle and puts you in danger of a heart attack if not monitored closely.”

My husband looked at her in disbelief. So he had a slight chance of suffering a heart-attack at some point (who doesn’t?), and he was being prescribed pills that may actually trigger a heart attack?? What has medicine come to? What has pharmacology come, producing medicine that is more dangerous than the actual illness?

Lastly, what about the pain on the right side of his abdomen – the problem he had come for and had been trying to solve for the past 10 years??

Medical students spend long years in school and training and internships. Is this really the best they can do once they become doctors? Or have they grown not to care?

 

Don’t trust them blindly

Please do go online, do your own research, or see several doctors to get a second, third and forth opinion. Even if you are lucky to find a well-experienced, caring doctor, it’s always a good idea to read everything you can find related to your ailment.

After the last, disappointing and pretty much useless doctor’s visit, we went online and, within about an hour, found a fairly good match for the symptoms my husband had been suffering from: either an inflammation of the gallbladder or gallstones.

Apparently the most common symptom is a rather sharp pain in the stomach area or in the upper right part of the belly, under the ribs. The pain might start suddenly and spread to the right upper back or shoulder. It usually occurs after meals, or begins at night and is severe enough to wake you up.

Cholesterol does play an important role, since it can build up and harden in the gall bladder, forming stones. So the young lady doctor was in fact on to something, but totally failed to correlate the test results with the symptoms.  

We were reading and thinking: HELLO? These are fairly common, well-known symptoms. How come gallbladder affection did not cross the mind of even one doctor?

Admittedly, we might be wrong in our assessment. Then again, to what extent did the doctors get it right? Zero…

Perhaps the real reason for skyrocketing health care costs and endless hospital waiting times is the fact that, in spite of all the high-tech tests and expensive equipment, people do not receive proper treatment, or receive no treatment at all, and are forced to come back again and again, and again…?  

 

Our solution: natural and vegan within reason

veggie platterThe recommended treatment is surgery, but we did not want to go this way. We searched online and found several herbal remedies based on milk thistle, artichoke, dandelion and other plants that are natural hepatic drainers and have the property of lowering cholesterol levels. We bought a homeopathic product named Homeodel 10 and it worked: the pain and discomfort eased off and went away in less than a week.

Furthermore we read about flax seeds which are rich in fiber and Omega 3 fatty acids, and are known to significantly lower the “bad” or LDL cholesterol. We now buy these at the supermarket or a nearby health store, grind them in the coffee grinder and eat about a teaspoon for breakfast, sprinkled over toast with butter, margarine, jam, hummus…

We still eat meat every now and then – my husband perhaps two to three times a week, while I myself eat meat only on occasion, at parties, barbecues or the like. I enjoy it, but do not crave it.

Sometimes we eat pizza – with real cheese, or a nice omelet, this once or twice a month at most.

Other than that we eat vegetable soups and stews, chilies, stir-fries, pasta, salads – all kinds of meals that are very tasty, do not leave you hungry and are 100% vegan. For a snack we like to crunch on raw veggies like baby carrots, snow peas, broccoli and cauliflower florets, radishes, peppers, cherry tomatoes – whatever we can buy at a reasonable price. And I bake my bread at home using 80% whole wheat flour.

We do not drink soft drinks, we do not eat chips, Tostitos, pretzels or the like – well, we do maybe once in a blue moon; we do not eat frozen meals; we do not buy sweets (other than dark chocolate), but every now and then we like to bake our own, healthy versions.

That’s about it. In fact, no food is off limits, but the unhealthy ones we consume only rarely and in small amounts.

Since we changed our diet my husband hasn’t experienced any serious problems anymore – and this for almost two years!

Remember that Hippocrates advised us “Let food be thy medicine”?

If all people were well-informed and ate right, namely LOTS of plants, very little animal products and very little processed food, they would be so much healthier and happier! Then the whole North-American healthcare emporium might come crumbling down – and maybe that wouldn’t be such a disaster, given its lack of efficiency…

My opinion.

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Image credits:

Speeding Ambulance – Author: www.openclipart.org , Public Domain License

Stone Tower – Author: zwekke2 ,Public domain license

Holding Hands – Author: beeki , Public domain license

Doctor with Coffee – Author www.openclipart.org, Public domain license

Drink On Beach – Author: Vera Kratochvil, Public domain license

Veggie Platter – my own photo


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