Learning from Illness (7) Prompting the GP

We are supposed to be ‘learning from illness’ in this series, but so far I’ve been concentrating on my personal experience. Despite the fact that I have many skilled and experienced doctors reading this blog, no-one reading the blog has, of yet, come up with the answer to my problem. That, in itself, is not surprising. My own doctor – and he is also a skilled, experienced and caring professional – did not come up with my diagnosis. In fact, I prevented him.

Now I still can’t tell you yet what my affliction was/is because I want to describe how I pulled the wool over my own doctor’s eyes. I have know my doctor for most of my life. I met him first in secondary school, and though we spent large periods of our lives without any interaction, I have still known him a long time, and would trust him 100%.

In the interests of getting to the crunch, I can tell you that my incredible nightly pain that I’ve described in previous posts did not propel me to my GP. There were several more incidents where I began to feel bad around 9 or 10 at night, and then was hit with the pain – radiating out from my stomach to my shoulders, my back and my groin. This was sometimes, but not always, accompanied by profuse sweating – usually just my head and neck, while the rest of me, particularly my extremities, were freezing.

But all this pain and suffering did not compel me to the doctor, as is common enough. Men don’t tend to go to doctors when they need to. It’s something in the psyche perhaps. But eventually, after one particularly bad night, my partner insisted that I visit the GP, and I suppose that gave me the excuse.

I’ll be honest. Times are hard. And we are a family. I don’t feel like ‘throwing away’ money on a GP visit, but if I’m totally honest, I’d spend the same money on a night out. (But that’s my night out!) Like I say, eventually, I went to see my GP (let’s call him Dr P.), but only because my partner had more or less insisted because she couldn’t handle another one of those nights.

But I didn’t just visit Dr P. As is common in this era of Internet diagnosis, I took with me several pre-conceived ideas about what was wrong with me. Usually when GPs encounter this phenomenon it is because of the Internet. But I grew up in a medical house, and my partner is a healthcare professional, so we tend to make judgments in medical matters out of habit. We do it when watching TV shows, when talking to neighbors about their kids – whenever.

And we had decided (who knows why – perhaps because it was the least of our fears?) that what I had was an ulcer. And it was this theory I took in to Dr P. and all the subtle pressure that comes with that for him to agree with me.

This might be the first thing I learned about being sick – don’t tell your doctor what illness you have, tell him your symptoms as accurately as you can. But, naturally, I didn’t do that.

The result was that I left his surgery with no better idea of my condition than I had before I went in. But I did get very valuable advice. And that advice was that I needed to get a scan.

Now, getting a scan in Ireland is not as simple as you might think. In my case, I had two options. The first was to go through the public system, which would have resulted in waiting for weeks, but more likely for months.

The other way, of course, was to pay for it – €175.

Of course there is no argument when it is put like this. I have argued about the health service in newspapers, in medical papers and on radio and television, but when it comes down to your own body and fairly consistent and constant pain, the argument is simple. You pay.

It might be right or wrong, but you pay. And I think this is what bothers people the most about a private/public system. Is there someone out there who couldn’t get €175 in that situation? Perhaps. But I’m more inclined to think that some people might decide, like I might have done, to wait a bit if they weren’t in immediate need, which is to say, in pain.

And the GP, for his or her part, cannot definitively say what is wrong without seeing a scan. They certainly can’t refer without one. So it’s an open goal.

Let’s say that every last penny I had was accounted for and that I had nothing to spare. Even so, because of the personal priority I put on health, I would be more likely to find the money anyway. But if I hadn’t had a pain factor, I don’t know if I’d have bothered at all.

Dr P. prescribed a drug for my ulcer, Nexium, and I then took that prescription to the pharmacy.  The pharmacist suggested that I look at a generic alternative, which I jumped at. Again, I have been writing about health and medicine for a while and know a generic is the exact same as the branded product, so no problem there. Well, no problem except for the €18 I had to pay.

I asked what the Nexium would have cost. €26 and change. Whoa! And at this stage, I knew I might be needing this drug for a long time!

But I bought the generic drug and took it home. I took one straight away and had no problem. I slept soundly that night knowing that my only problem was coming up with the funds to buy this drug every month. A problem, to be sure, but nothing that a person couldn’t manage.

That, after all, is only money.

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