When the Doctor Becomes the Patient: Not Always a Pretty Picture

While in the midst of my post-surgery “down time” I’ve been chuckling a bit about what my own physicians have endured as a result of my medical background.  How commonly is a surgeon interrogated about what type of suture pattern and material he intends to use? How often does an anesthesiologist need to provide a detailed pharmacologic rundown of the anti-emetic (anti-vomiting) drugs that will be used to keep the patient with a queasy stomach from puking post-operatively? 

© Steve Horton

I remember one particular appointment with my family physician a few years back.  When we discussed the reason for the visit I began with, “I think I have cancer!”  I explained that I’d been losing weight even though I’d been eating normally.  After all, a diagnostic workup on a middle-aged dog or cat losing weight in the “midst of plenty” often results in the diagnosis of cancer.   My physician worked hard to hide a grin as he explained that, given my age, sex, and overall vigor, other diagnoses were far more likely. Thankfully, he was right, and the next time I saw him he asked for permission to share this “amusing patient story” with some medical students he was training.  

Sometimes, the medical knowledge I have can be a detriment to my own peace of mind.  As the story above illustrates, I’m always keenly aware of the worst-case scenario (tough on a person who is a natural born worrier). Would I trade being a veterinarian for any other profession?  Not in a million years.  Not only do I love what I do, I love that my medical background (along with a bit of chutzpah) allows me to be a stellar medical advocate for myself.  And if you’ve read much of what I’ve written in the past, you know that I am all about medical advocacy! 

Do you work within the medical profession?  If so, how has this been helpful or detrimental when interacting with your health care professionals (including your veterinarian)? 

Best wishes for good health,             

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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11 Comments on “When the Doctor Becomes the Patient: Not Always a Pretty Picture

  1. I always enjoy your column.

    I am a retired nurse. Some docs truly do not like to work with someone within the medical profession, but I have had my present doctors for so long (I have rheumatoic arthritis) that we understand each other and have a good relationship.

    My wonderful vet (Dr. Radcliffe, Wheeling, West Virginia) rather enjoys telling me things because he knows I will understand him. Usually. He is a sighthound expert and a wonderful orthopedic surgeon that dogs come from as far as california to see. He is also a country doc like James Harriet! I am so fortunate to have a vet who will discuss the care of my Furbabies with me.


  2. My doctor always looks at me a little sadly when I come in with my own diagnoses – like just last week, when I was pretty sure I had parvo.

  3. I was a pre-med student when I suddenly became squeamish and had to change my major. However medicine comes naturally to me and I didn’t want to get totally out of the field, so I went to work as veterinary medical/pet health writer.
    Now as an autoimmune patient (and owner of multiple pets) my medical comprehension and writing experience has been invaluable.
    It let to a quicker diagnosis, the best treatments, and prevents unnecessary tests.
    I’ve also accurately diagnosed family members who sought treatment — sooner and more accurately as a result, including my spouse’s tonsillar abscess — an extremely rare problem in adults!
    P.S. I have correctly reached the diagnosis more than 90% of the time on the tv show Mystery Diagnosis :-)

  4. Your story – I think I have cancer – made me laugh out loud.
    Just last month – I saw my pain doctor & told him: when I made the appt. I really thought I had lower back pain & needed injections like you did 2 years ago BUT – then I remembered a girl in Flex class pointing out where our glutes were & I looked glute pain up on internet & I think that is what I have.
    Thank goodness, he didn’t laugh – that is what it was & PT & home exercises has it all better.

    Don’t you think today’s doctors almost expect we-patients to be better informed & know more than even 12 years ago?

  5. I am not a doctor but I was a registered medical technologist for years before I became a middle and high school science teacher. I will agree that sometmes people who know what is “going on” can really bug the doctors. However, after I explain my background most are usually quite helpful. I have gotten to see all my x-rays, I have had questions answered honestly, and when I was in the hospital for back surgery I had the best of care. Because I react to most drugs and anesthetics I worried and nagged a lot but they did an awesome job. Also, when I go to the vet they are very good at showing me all test results and yes, I do ask if dog normals are different than the human normals so that I do know and understand what they are saying. Even though I am sure sometimes the medical doctors and vets think I am “pushing too much” to know everything I have been treated with the greatest respect by all. Thanks to all medical professionals.

  6. Although I do not have a medical background, I read voraciously and have been the medical advocate for myself and the rest of my family for over twenty years. At times, it has actually resulted in saving a life…for instance, I noticed the erratic heartrate on my mother’s ER monitor. Even though five physicians failed to notice this, because of my persistance (and my worrywart nature) as well as some wonderful nurses, my mother was correctly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which caused the stroke that put her in the ER to begin with. When various doctors could not diagnose my husband’s medical problem, (before we had internet access), my access to a dermatological textbook (thanks to a relative working in a hospital ) and my willingness to research, led to the correct diagnosis of my husband’s very rare form of cancer (mycosis fungoides). Unfortunately, I had no one but myself to advocate for our beloved dog, who passed away because veterinarians/specialists discounted my concerns . In almost every instance, whether it was with a doctor or a veterinarian, I was met with resistance, and in some cases, downright rude behavior, because I , as a layperson, dared to question the experts. On the other hand, I have dealt with some wonderful physicians who treat me with respect and actually listen to what I have to say BECUAUSE they know that it is said out of concern, and based upon my reading. (I only read reputable sites)
    I can empathize with you, Dr. Kay. They say that doctors make the worst patients…perhaps it is because they have an inside scoop on how often and how easily things can go wrong due to arrogance and miscommunication.

  7. LOL … it wouldn’t do for me to have any professional knowledge. I once had a Gyno tell me I was too smart for my own good. More recently, after asking a lot of questions concerning a procedure to be done on my back I felt the need to call the OR to get my answers (in regards to injectable dye) as the Dr. told me not to worry about it. When I next saw him and informed him I had my info and reminded him , again, about my allergy to the dye … he was quite indignant and outraged that I would go behind his back! Had I not called I very well may not have been here now. Needless to say, the Dr. and I parted company. We MUST be vigilant in our own healthcare as well as that of our furbabies.

  8. Hello Dr. Kay, I can have my bouts of worry. Several years ago a friend of my wife and I, had Lymphoma. It started with a lump near her inner thigh. Well I started feeling around my thigh and looking up the symptoms of her cancer. I did this late at night since I don’t sleep well.

    Every symptom I read about, I seem to have. It got worse and after a week, I scared myself so bad that at 3:00 am in the morning I ran into our bedroom, woke up my wife and told her “I think I have stage 4 lymphoma and all I can think of is that when I die you will have sex with another man.”

    Knowing me, my wife’s half asleep, mumbled something about you don’t have cancer, and go to bed.

    After that I had strict orders by my wife AND Doctor that I was no longer allowed to read about diseases on the Internet.

  9. Ignorance IS bliss! But you know what, it is good to keep them on their toes. Being YOUR health advocate! :-)

  10. Ignorance IS bliss! But you know what, it is good to keep them on your toes. Being YOUR health advocate! :-)