Why it's Important to Be Your Own Health Advocate

When my oldest son was a baby, I nursed him for the first five weeks of his life. I planned to do it longer, but the excruciating pain it was causing me every time he ate made me cut it short. Everyone kept telling me it wasn't normal to have pain, but being a first time mom, I didn't know the difference. I have sensitive skin and eczema, so in the beginning, I just chalked it up to that.

But the pain just kept getting worse and worse, until in the last weeks, it literally felt like someone was stabbing me with knives every time my son ate. I asked the doctor about it, but she was less than helpful. It finally got so excruciating that I had to take matters into my own hands.

This was back in 2001, so the internet was not what it is today. Even if I could have, it didn't dawn on me to try to Google my symptoms to figure out what the problem was. So I went to the book stores and found every book about problems with breast feeding I could find.

Then I found it. When I read the description of the yeast infection, it described my pain perfectly. I had found my problem. So I went to the doctor and said, "I have a yeast infection." After some more discussion and tests, she agreed it was in fact my problem.

Fast forward to 2010, and I started gaining weight for reason, and it bothered me. I have always been able to maintain my weight easily, so once again, I went on a search to figure out the diagnosis on my own. I finally decided that I had a low thyroid. My tests were within normal range, but I had read enough books that said that you should go by how you feel, not what the numbers say.

So I found myself an alternative doctor who was open-minded, and she agreed with me that I had a low thyroid. She prescribed me a natural thyroid medication, and for the most part, my body returned back to normal.

And now, I currently haven another mystery health issue. About a week ago, I started developing an itchy rash on my face, and it just keeps spreading. It's so itchy that I want to claw my face off.

I went to urgent care last weekend when it started getting really bad because I couldn't stand it anymore and I was miserable. But the doctor was less than helpful. In fact, I think I knew more about skin disorders than he did.

I finally got to see the dermatologist on Monday, and they said I was having an allergic reaction (to what? I have know idea). In my heart, I feel that it's something else, but they were insistent that it was allergy-related. So they gave me a cortisone shot, and sent me out the door saying I should be better in a couple of days. And here I am, still not better.

After I got the cortisone shot, I was kind of mad at myself. I didn't even think twice about side effects because I was so miserably itchy that I would have tried anything (still am). So I blindly followed doctor's orders with the hopes that they were right.

But I'm still waiting for it to go away.

The reason I'm telling you all this is to say that doctors are not gods. They are human, and much of medicine is a guessing game. And I think these days, the insurance companies require them to spend less and less time with each patient (I think the average is 8 minutes). But how much can you really figure out in 8 minutes?!

My dad was a dentist, and so he was surrounded by the medical community. But the ironic thing is that neither he nor my mom "trusted" doctors. In fact, my mom is turning 80 in a few days and is not taking even one prescription medication, hardly ever sees a doctor, and is in good health.

In fact, medication errors are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Yes, you heard me correctly! Isn't that scary? I mean, we put almost blind trust in our doctors and don't question their decisions.

I think we should all stop doing that. In this day and age with the internet, you can find out a lot of health information that can help you. I'm sure doctors hate patients like me though - you know, the "know-it-all" type who question them in an attempt to understand and take ownership of my health.

I'm not saying doctors are bad - far from it. Heart doctors performed my dad and a good friend of mine's heart surgeries, and an orthopedic surgeon fixed my mom's hips so she's no longer in pain. So doctors are really good sometimes.

All I'm saying is that in addition to listening to your doctor, you have to educate yourself. After all, we all want to feel the best we can, right? And since most of us only spend 8 minutes with our doctor, that's not a lot of time for them to solve our medical mysteries. So why not take ownership of your own health? Become a partner with your doctor, instead of solely being at their mercy. Because who wants you to get better more than you? Okay, maybe your mom. But you get my point.