A few years ago, I became inexplicably sick.
My gastro functioning became absent overnight. I couldn’t use the bathroom, nor could I keep food down. With much invasive investigation, a specialist discovered that my gallbladder had effectively died. And out it came.
The surgeon who removed my gallbladder inspected my scars some weeks later. He was happy with my ‘recovery’. Off he sent me on my merry way, to live a happy and healthy life. Until I wasn’t so healthy anymore.
Once I started suffering chronic diarrhea and unexplainable weight gain, I took matters into my own hands. I became my own doctor, advocated for my own recovery. I became the person putting all my health puzzle pieces together.
And this is what I learned.
Don’t accept no for an answer
I remember visiting my doctor some years after my gallbladder removal to discuss my new, confused body. I explained my symptoms. I explained my perpetual problems with my toilet behaviours and was promptly dismissed. “I’ve had my gallbladder out,” he explained, “and I don’t suffer from any of these issues. So it isn’t linked.”
But this isn’t what I had heard from many other people like me. The Facebook group I was in, with over five-thousand members, had me thinking otherwise. They educated me on gastroenterological conditions that can stem from this surgery. So many of them had a diagnosis from a doctor to confirm it.
The words of my doctor didn’t meet what I knew. I wasn’t in a position to self diagnose. Yet, I knew at that point there was a possibility something serious was wrong with me.
And despite my unprofessional investigation, my issues weren’t disappearing with his dismissal. That’s when I advocated for myself and insisted on seeing specialists about my issue.
Sometimes it’s an instinct we need to follow. Whether my instincts were right or wrong, I needed to follow them. I needed to investigate my health issues, even for simple peace of mind.
You know your body, and you know when something’s wrong. You know when you need more help. If you are like me and your instinct has taken you to the doctor’s office in the first place, don’t let anyone shelve your intuition. Because in my situation, I was right.
Ask questions about the relationship between conditions
Once I finally met with a gastroenterologist, he first asked about my liver. “Has it been checked recently?” I shook my head. “Well, then we need to check it.”
I remember my confusion. Why is a gastroenterologist asking me about my liver? Is this his field? What does that have to do with my missing gallbladder?
In the past, I would have kept my questions to myself, unwilling to waste the time of the doctor. But why should I leave my appointment with confusion? So I asked what the connection was.
He explained that without my gallbladder, my liver was severely compromised. The two organs support each other. And that’s when the light bulb went off.
Once I understood the issue with my liver, I brought to light deficiencies in my lifestyle choices. It explained why I had a hangover after two drinks. And why I struggled when eating red meat with a glass of red wine. This knowledge meant I changed my approach to blood tests. I became an advocate for regular liver testing without prompting.
Asking questions is important. We need to know why doctors make choices for us, why they prescribe medication, why they are running tests on us. It’s our body and mind to protect. It’s our relationship with ourselves. And we can’t allow someone to step in without permission to ask ‘why’.
Questions form the fundamentals of our growth as humans. My questions unlocked uncertainties about my body. I had a reason I felt sick, a reason for my fatigue. I stopped living in the darkness of myself.
Ask for a second opinion, or third
We aren’t always going to like what our medical professionals say. Their diagnosis may, well, frankly, suck. But sometimes it isn’t about the diagnosis.
I went and saw a dietitian about my condition. She was lovely, had some great insights, but she didn’t seem to understand my condition.
Most of the justifications she offered about my desperate need for the toilet was psychological. I experienced diarrhea because I was nervous about something. As much as it was a valid point and the case for some, her opinion didn’t sit well with me.
From my unsureness about her advice, I didn’t hesitate to find other opinions. I spoke to another dietitian and then the gastroenterologist in further detail. The result was a diagnosis of bile acid malabsorption. A condition that’s treatable with medication. Entirely physical and nothing at all emotional.
I’ve learned you shouldn’t worry about seeking a second opinion. As professionals, doctors should advocate for your due diligence. People frowning upon you finding differing opinions don’t want you to get better.
The reality is the people we trust won’t always get it right. I built my relationship with my doctors on superhuman trust. A trust that they will forever offer me perfection. This isn’t real. Every profession, every person, every relationship can have a moment where someone gets it wrong.
It’s what makes us human. And the more I embrace human qualities, the better my life is.
Ask for your results for everything
Much like asking questions, I used to think it was impolite or not allowed to have a copy of my test results. Blood work, surgery reports, all are important documents with insights into your health. Yet, so many medical professionals guard them away from you.
As I became my own doctor, I learned to request for my medical reports and test results. When you shift around doctors, this is information new doctors want to know.
They will often ask if you have ever had specific tests or the latest blood work. It’s important for you to be able to produce these results. Not only does this save investigative time, as I’ve discovered, but it saves you from doubling up on testing.
I’ve learned the importance of my time and energy in my medical life. It’s precious and disappears quicker than we give it credit for. Whatever we can do to focus less on the medical side and more on living life the better. Every test, every appointment, takes time. And sometimes we don’t know how much time we have left.
It’s with that focus I’ve learned how to be clinical when it comes to my medical administration. I’ve developed a place where I store this information central to me, where I can access it and so can my loved ones. It’s my administration liberation, where I can live knowing I have control of my body’s history.
Your health, your priority
The biggest thing I learned with my health issues is that I’m the number one person looking after my needs. I need to be the one who pursues avenues. The one who remembers what the doctors say. And quite often the one who collates all the information together.
Whilst every doctor has an important role in my health journey, they don’t work together as I need them to. That is the system and not their fault.
I’m the link between them, and the link back to my body.
We need to better advocates of our own health and the way we move through the medical system. We need to better advocate for our body’s harmony. We need to remember why we’re advocating in the first place. It’s our body and mind, and it’s the only one we will ever have.
Being my own doctor, so to speak, has been the best investment of my time and energy. My body thanks me, and so will yours.
I’m Ellen McRae, writer by trade and passionate storyteller by nature. I write about figuring about love and relationships through fictional-reality. The anecdotes might not always be true, but the lessons learned sure are!
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