Zebras #AtoZChallenge

Zebras     #AtoZChallenge

There is nothing more frustrating as a patient than having a provider look at you and summarily discount your symptoms as ‘impossible’. It is very common that we are hesitant, even afraid, of that which we do not understand. It is also true that those trained to diagnose and treat us could and should be held to a higher standard.

It is to them we look when our body revolts against us in ways which we do not understand. It is them to whom we turn when we feel our body couldn’t possibly be destroying itself as it seems to be doing. It is our physicians we look to for an answer of that which we cannot make sense of on our own. And that is how it should be for they are the ones with years and years of education and experience upon which to base their examination and diagnosis.

However, when learning the science of medical care, they are often taught to think of the most common diagnosis first. While on the surface this makes sense, oftentimes they fail to diligently pursue our entire history and symptoms in order to make a proper diagnosis. As with anything in life one must take into account all pertinent information in order to make a proper determination as to what is happening.

A phrase often used early in one’s practice of treating other human beings is “when you think hoofbeats think horses, not zebras.” While this may work in the majority of cases, I assure you that it does not work well in every scenario, nor should it be expected to. A better way to phrase this lesson would be “when horses no longer make sense, start thinking zebras”.

Frequently when a physician actually takes the time to perform a full and complete exam and history they are left at a loss as to precisely what the cause may be in their more complex population of patients. That is because those of us with complex medical problems do not present as the typical patient. Our symptoms may not even make sense presenting with each other. Nevertheless, we are very real and so are our symptoms. We deserve to be believed and to have our complaints and symptoms taken seriously regardless of whether they make immediate sense or not.

Both when working in patient care, and while being a patient, I have encountered too many stories of people suffering for years prior to receiving a true and accurate diagnosis. While it is true that sometimes a proper diagnosis eludes medical science, it is also true that sometimes when a diagnosis isn’t readily recognizable, we as patients suffer. Sometimes we suffer needlessly when just a little perseverance on the part of our medical professionals would provide an answer. Other times a diagnosis just isn’t possible.

My suggestion to medical professionals is to be willing to consider zebras when horses no longer make sound medical judgment. Don’t be unwilling to consider the obscure. Be more than willing to advocate for and on behalf of your patients right to proper diagnosis and treatment. Above all else, do no harm. For when you dismiss us, you are often causing irreparable harm physically, medically, and emotionally.

Do you have a story you’d like to share regarding a challenge in obtaining a proper diagnosis or treatment? Please share with us in the comments below.

5 Replies to “Zebras #AtoZChallenge”

  1. A very apt concluding post!
    Loved reading and getting enlightened by your posts, all through out the April. Thank you for making us more aware, more compassionate and more thoughtful about the patient care!
    All the best and lets keep in touch!
    Anagha From Team MocktailMommies
    Collage Of Life

    1. Thank you for your very kind comments. I have enjoyed a number of posts from your blog as well. I would definitely enjoy keeping in touch, and look forward to it!

  2. My brother in law’s wife has been on an over two years worth journey in trying to have certain digestive problems diagnosed, even going to a major medical center some five hours from where she lives. She’s been to the ER several times and this situation has become a nightmare for her. No one seems to be able to figure out what is going on. Perhaps all she can hope for now is a doctor who will figure out what is going on in her body. (One of her sisters, for whatever it may be worth, has MS and it took a bit for her to be diagnosed, years back.)

    1. Sadly many times the medical profession seems unable to decipher the cluster of symptoms many of us seem to present with. I have been trying to get definitive answers regarding a myriad of neurological symptoms for nearly two years now. Several physicians state it is definitely MS, but of course, the MS specialist (at a major teaching hospital) will neither confirm nor deny it until a repeat MRI one year after that visit. I find it disturbing that this is the best our medical profession has to offer. While I understand that not every case is clearly defined, I also believe that we have become too dependent on diagnosis guidelines which remove the ability to use their own clinical judgment.

  3. If only Dr. House were real. If only doctors said things like, “I don’t know what’s wrong, BUT I WILL NOT GIVE UP if you won’t.” If only insurance companies allowed that.

    Cheaper to die shouldn’t be a thing.

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