There Are No Stupid Questions: How To Navigate The Medical World

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Before I became an acupuncturist, I experienced a stress-induced bout of acid reflux, also referred to as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) as a result of a job I was working at the time. I'd had it before, knew it was temporary and asked my doctor for the previous treatment - a prescription for Nexium that I could take until I switched jobs about 6 weeks later. He informed me he'd like to put me "on a low dose of Lexapro." "But that's an antidepressant," I said.

"Yes," he confirmed.

"Not to sound stupid, but....why?" I asked. "I have situational stress with a visible end date. I'm not depressed." "I think it's what's best for you," was the only answer I got.

We went back and forth until I made it clear I would be leaving his office with a prescription for Nexium or no prescription at all.

The point I'm getting at is that in the medical world, you are your biggest advocate.

I am in NO way knocking antidepressants. When used for accurately diagnosed depression and anxiety, they are perfectly safe and completely appropriate. I'm also not knocking doctors because a) I am one and b) most doctors really do know what they're talking about, it's why they're doctors. However, at the time of my doctor's visit, I had education in the different classes of antidepressants and understood the pros and cons of each. Aside from my stress-induced gastrointestinal pyrotechnics, I felt perfectly in control of myself and my emotions. I knew I didn't need a different medication, in spite of what my doctor thought was "best for me." When receiving any treatment, it is your right to know what is being done to your body and why. It's also important to understand and accept the risks of either proceeding with or declining treatment, but you can't do that without information. Each and every one of us is self conscious at some point. Some of the most confident people I know struggle with "not wanting to sound like an idiot." If we concede to these reservations in our doctor's office it can lead to treatments we don't want or need, or decisions we later regret. Here are some helpful tips that can make the process a little less daunting:

1. Make a physical list of questions: You'll be less likely to forget things if they're bulleted out, and as an added bonus it will help streamline the appointment. Efficiency is important because doctors have limited time slots in which they can see their patients, often as a result of insurance restrictions and not because they're trying to push you out the door.

2. Do research: The internet is a fabulous resource. It has a wealth of both good and bad information, though, so comb through a wide variety of sites and gather as much information as possible from reputable sources. Look for sites that end in .gov or .org (though .org can be misleading), and browse PubMed for free research at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

3. Take a trusted friend or relative with you to your appointment: Medical situations can be emotionally overwhelming. In addition to being a source of support, a loved one may ask questions that you don't think of right away.

4. Call your doctor's office back if you think of questions later on: Many offices have designated staff to answer medical questions. Do not avoid asking questions because you "don't want to bother anyone." If you don't get a call back within 24-48 hours, keep calling until you do.

5. Get a second opinion: If you're concerned that you're being pressured into a situation that makes you uncomfortable or you don't feel you're being given enough information, don't be afraid to seek out a second (or in some cases third) opinion.

As a healthcare professional, I am as much an educator as I am a practitioner. Patients deserve to know why I'm doing a particular treatment and how it will specifically benefit them. From demonstrating useful acupressure points to recommending which foods patients might want to avoid during certain seasons or healing processes, or explaining the nuances of healing muscles vs. tendons vs. bones, education is an essential ingredient in the medical process of each and every one of my patients. The most important thing I tell them is, "There are no stupid questions."

Elizabeth Collins, Doctor of Acupuncture, is the owner of Balance Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and chief herbalist of Infinity Apothecary, both located at One Richmond Square in Providence, Rhode Island. She treats a wide variety of conditions and specializes in both orthopedics and Performance Arts medicine. You can find out more about Elizabeth, acupuncture and Oriental medicine at www.balanceacu.com.