You want to learn how to talk to your doctor in a way that gets you closer to the help you need.
Lorena Junco Margain had been prescribed antidepressants after the birth of her 3rd child. She'd been experiencing symptoms that led her to believe there was more to it than postpartum depression. Day after day, she was fatigued, dizzy, and had an overall sense that something wasn't right.
Lorena searched for answers and even went to a specialist for a special brain scan that came back normal. Frustrated and confused, she put on a happy face and tried to push through.
A chance encounter with her sister's doctor led to the discovery that she did in fact have a tumor on her adrenal gland. She was scheduled for surgery to remove the adrenal gland with the tumor. She felt grateful that she finally had an answer to what had been causing her so much pain and stress.
Then, her surgeon made a horrible mistake.
Unfortunately, before the mistake was discovered, Lorena had to travel a dark, lonely journey. That path became even more painful once the surgeon's mistake landed her back in the ER; where she soon discovered why she felt worse, not better, after her surgery.
On the Way to Casa Lotus
Lorena shares the details about what happened to her and how she came to terms with it all in her best-selling book On the Way to Casa Lotus.
She also shares what happens when a patient doesn't feel confident communicating with their doctor.
Our current medical system isn't structured in a way that makes women feel comfortable speaking up about advice, recommendations, or prescriptions that they intuitively feel are wrong.
Although this grave error, made by her surgeon, left Lorena with permanent physical consequences, she finds her strength in empowering others. Lorena wants patients to become advocates for their own health and medical care.
In this episode of A Healthy Bite, Lorena shares what's she's learned on how to take an active role in your own health issues. That plus a whole lot of love and encouragement. Listen above or watch the video version on my YouTube Channel here.
How to Talk to Your Doctor
Lorena learned valuable lessons about how to talk to your doctor, which is what she is sharing with us today.
As a patient, go into your doctor's office being well-informed, proactive, and plain-spoken. Remember, you should have access to your own medical records and test results. There's no reason why you can't read them and be informed.
Go into your doctor's appointment prepared. Keep notes on how you're feeling, what you're experiencing, and all of your symptoms.
Tell Stories and Be Relatable
When speaking with your health care provider, be sure to practice good communication. For example, Lorena recommends describing pain with adjectives.
Using stories to help the doctor get into your shoes. “I was driving my kids to school when suddenly everything around me started moving. My vision was blurry, therefore I had to pull over until the feeling passed.”
This kind of storytelling helps the doctor relate to what you're going through in your life.
Take a List of Questions and Points
When it comes to health care for yourself or a family member, it's important to write everything down yourself. Keep a list of health concerns you'd like to discuss with your doctor.
If you're being prescribed a new medication, ask about the side effects, when to follow-up, is the medication only to be taken for a limited time? Are there better alternatives? Ask your doctor specifically how to take a medicine. Should it be taken with food or without? Does it have interactions with anything else you're taking?
On a personal note: In 1992, a doctor prescribed my infant daughter the medicine Paregoric for vomiting and diarrhea. Each teaspoonful contains Anhydrous Morphine (from Opium) about 2 mg. When I gave her the first dose of the medication I knew something was wrong. She lost her breath, turned red, and finally after what seemed forever, began gasping for air.
I called 911, terrified and shaking. Long story short, the prescription should have instructed “dilute in a bottle of water” but it simply read, “give one teaspoon by mouth.” Back then, we couldn't look up information on the internet. Lesson learned: Always Ask Questions!
Especially if you are a woman being prescribed a medication or treatment protocol. “Women are 50 to 75 percent more likely than men to experience an adverse drug reaction.” 1
Questions to Ask
- What else could this be?
- Are there tests you think I need?
- How can I schedule this test?
- Is there anything I should do to prepare for this test?
- What kinds of tests can be used for a diagnosis?
- Should I avoid food or supplements prior to my test?
- Will I receive a copy of the results and will you call to discuss or do I need a follow-up appointment?
- Concerning a prescription, what are the side effects?
- Can you double-check that this medication will not interact with anything else I'm taking that I have listed in my chart?
- If my symptoms go away, should I continue taking the medication?
- What do I do if my symptoms get worse?
Also, you may want to ask if there is a backup plan in case your health insurance doesn't cover your prescription or in case it is too expensive. (A face wash for rosacea that cost over $500 per month AFTER insurance was once prescribed for me! No thanks!)
Explore Treatment Options
Don't be afraid to get a second opinion. Speak up if you want to explore complementary medicine or combined care. Call your insurance provider to see if alternative health approaches are covered. Would your doctor consider massage therapy, herbs, or chiropractic care, just to name a few.
Always list any complementary treatments on your medical records so that your health care provider is aware. Better to be proactive, rather than wait for your doctor to ask.
Be an active participant in your own treatment plan. Instead of accepting medical advice that you aren't comfortable with, seek out health information from a variety of sources.
Never ignore your Instincts
Lorena shares how she followed her instincts when it came to the baby with the heart condition. When they told her to wait until the baby's appointment, following her gut saved the child's life. Without Lorena's assistance on following her instincts, the baby would have died.
There are countless stories like this out there, although not all of them have happy endings.
Never ignore your instincts. Self advocacy could save your life.
“There’s nothing wrong” is Not an Answer!
If you feel you have health problems but your doctor says there is nothing wrong, you have a right to get a second opinion and a third.
As Lorena mentioned in the podcast, since the coronavirus pandemic, the options for seeing doctors have expanded. A doctor dismissing your symptoms should not keep you from seeking answers elsewhere. When you're told, it's all in your head, it can be disheartening, embarrassing, and frustrating; however, you can't let that keep you from getting the best care possible.
Wellness incorporates mental health as well as physical health. Someone who dismisses your concerns may make you doubt yourself; however, when your doctor says nothing's wrong it has an even greater impact.
Keep seeking help
A patients' symptoms may be dismissed for a number of reasons. The doctor is too busy, distracted, or overworked. Other more disturbing reasons may be:
- Age bias (being young isn't a guarantee of overall health!)
- Racial bias – sadly people of color routinely do not receive the level of care as do caucasian patients, even though they are more likely to have certain medical conditions, they're often screened less. 2
- Obesity Bias – Higher patient BMI was associated with lower physician respect according to one study. 3
We all want to be in good health. If your family doctor doesn't spend time with you, it may be time to find a new one. As Lorena mentioned, your doctor should take the time to discuss your concerns and answer questions to the best of their ability.
Bringing About Change
Lastly, it's important to speak up if you're hoping to improve the doctor-patient relationship. Remember, your doctor is not a mind reader. If you are not happy with the treatment you receive, they won't know unless you tell them. Always being respectful, of course.
If you aren't satisfied with your doctor's visit, express your disappointment in a polite and respectful way. Your goal is to bring your doctor on board as your biggest ally, so building trust is crucial to the doctor-patient relationship!
Do your part, even though, as a patient, you aren't the only one responsible for the success (or failure) of your doctor's appointment.
the doctor-patient relationship is a powerful part of a doctor’s visit and can alter health outcomes for patients. Therefore, it is important for physicians to recognize when the relationship is challenged or failing. If the relationship is challenged or failing, physicians should be able to recognize the causes for the disruption in the relationship and implement solutions to improve care. NIH
On My Way
You can listen to Lorena's podcast On My Way, and the specific episode we mentioned about how she was able to build her trust in medical professionals again, here.
Lorena shares her thoughts about seeing—and speaking to—doctors as equals. What are your thoughts on that topic? We'd love to hear YOUR feedback. I shared my thoughts in the Healthologist Community here and would love to continue the conversation; it's free – so join us!
Meet Lorena Junco Margain
Art collector and philanthropist Lorena Junco Margain is the author of On the Way to Casa Lotus, a memoir about her journey coming to terms with the permanent consequences of a surgeon’s devastating mistake.
After studying visual arts at Universidad de Monterrey, she co-founded the Distrito14 gallery in Monterrey. She also co-founded and curated, with her husband, the Margain-Junco Collection to promote awareness of Mexican art internationally. She lives in Austin, Texas with her family.
Explore Lorena's website: LorenaJuncoMargain.com
Pay It Forward Box
Help someone special by sharing the message of forgiveness as a force for change. Gift them a Pay It Forward Box with a limited edition hard cover book along with your selection of a hat, necklace or bracelet that reads “on my way.” To honor you, Lorena donates a Lifestyle of Love Care Kit containing uplifting items to support a patient in the hospital suffering with chronic illness.
1 – Whitley, Heather, and Wesley Lindsey. “Sex-based differences in drug activity.” American family physician vol. 80,11 (2009): 1254-8.
2 -Academic Emergency Medicine 2017; 24: 895– 904. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/acem.13214
3 – Huizinga, Mary Margaret et al. “Physician respect for patients with obesity.” Journal of general internal medicine vol. 24,11 (2009): 1236-9. doi:10.1007/s11606-009-1104-8
4 – Chipidza, Fallon E et al. “Impact of the Doctor-Patient Relationship.” The primary care companion for CNS disorders vol. 17,5 10.4088/PCC.15f01840. 22 Oct. 2015, doi:10.4088/PCC.15f01840
5 – NIH 4 Tips: Start Talking With Your Health Care Providers About Complementary Health Approaches https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/tips-start-talking-with-your-health-care-providers-about-complementary-health-approaches