Saturday, April 19, 2008

Why Patients See Us

It often takes a little illness to remind doctors what it means to be patients. At least for me. Coming home from work a few days ago, I came down with a sudden feeling of profound fatigue, muscle aches, and chills. While initially I thought it was due to inadequate sleep, it became more obvious as I began coughing up greenish phelgm and increasing pain in all of my muscles particularly in my low back and eyes.

I stayed in bed the entire day only getting up to eat a small lunch or dinner. I don't particularly like taking medications (most of my patients feel the same way) and refused to do so. It's a viral illness. It will get better.

If I wasn't a doctor, I suppose I might think it was something more serious. But my training told me that with no high grade temperature, no wheezing, no shortness of breath, it most likely was a cold. Nevertheless, it didn't make me feel any better knowing this.

So this is why patients look as us incredulously when we tell them it is a virus and there isn't any special medical treatment besides time, rest, and some over the counter medications. My family members in the past have been offered antibiotics and even prednisone for clear cases of viral illnesses. Although the well meaning doctors and nurse practioners probably felt that patients would feel better that they would be doing something, educated patients know that this behavior in fact this is not appropriate and not only drives up healthcare costs but also antibiotic resistance.

As I try to reassure myself that the periodic coughing of phelgm, the constant muscle pains and chills will pass, my better half encourages me to try some Tylenol. Tylenol? After I became a doctor, I've become more reluctant to take medications. But, really, Tylenol?

After 1000 mg of Tylenol and an hour later, I felt quite a bit better. Although I am still recovering, it just goes to show that the best medical treatment is understanding how someone else feels by being put in his shoes and the compassion given, as well as time, over the counter medication, and rest, is all one needs to get well.

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