My patient Anna was in the office today and she shared with me that a few weeks ago she was feeling poorly. She was on vacation and had a day where she really didn’t feel well. On further questioning and on exam it was obvious that her symptoms could have signaled a serious problem.
She took some OTC meds and rested, but didn’t seek medical care.
The problem is that medical professionals work very hard to teach people about what symptoms they should watch for and what symptoms may signal a serious problem. For instance, suppose you twist your ankle and can’t walk on it AT ALL and it is obviously deformed? You would need to see the doctor ASAP to have it checked.
What if Anna’s best friend had been on vacation with her and had the exact same symptoms she was experiencing? She wouldn’t have thought twice about taking her friend to the emergency room to be checked out. But because it was her own symptoms, she minimized them and chose not to seek care.
Why do we DO that?! I’m not exempting myself from this sense of frustration. This time last year I worked almost a whole day in the office with worsening abdominal pain that turned out to be appendicitis (see this post for more information).
We can easily minimize symptoms of illness or injury. Sometimes we don’t want to inconvenience others. Also, nobody WANTS to be sick or hurt. However, ignoring symptoms of illness can be very dangerous. Illnesses are often easier to treat if they are caught early.
How do you know if you should see the doctor if you’re sick or hurt? My best advice is to treat yourself like your best friend. Look at your situation as if your best friend was feeling this way. If you would take your friend to the emergency room or to the doctor, then you should go.
Many people die every year because they think their chest pain is heartburn. Even though they KNOW chest pain can be heart pain. Or they convince themselves the severe headache is just sinus trouble. The dizziness and numbness is just a pinched nerve.
YOU are important! YOU deserve to be treated with care and respect, and have your symptoms taken seriously. Especially by YOURSELF. Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. You deserve it!