If You Do Anything Today, Get a 2nd Opinion
Get the second opinion.
I used to think second opinions were for privileged celebrities who dared to defy the doctoral hierarchies of the world. Those who don’t mind being branded as a “doctor hopper” or an “inconsistent patient” because they can pay for whatever bills or bylines that come their way. Those who can’t … well, me.
But I was wrong. Before the operation I just survived a couple weeks ago, I went to a surgeon recommended by my care team. He was a good physician and a kind man from what I could tell. And he was recommended by my CF squad, whom I adore wholeheartedly.
Even so, he thought something was wrong that wasn’t the something that was wrong.
“I think you need physical therapy,” he said, writing me a prescription. “There is definitely some sort of a prolapse happening, but not anything I can fix, or fix safely.”
I respected that opinion — but felt insane. I knew something that “felt like the last time I had a prolapse, but sort of different” was going on, and that it was causing me to lose weight rapidly, among other things.
“He was really kind,” I kept saying, after bursting into tears once outside the building. But something still felt terribly wrong. In fact, I spiraled into acute depression for a couple weeks, unlike any I was used to in the past. (In truth, I tend to run more on the stressed-out, over-thinking, and anxious side of things anyway. You know what I mean? Does that make you mad? I’m sorry. Are you mad at me? Do you get what I mean?)
But it wasn’t the first opinion that felt wrong per se, or feeling silly that my team sent me to someone only for me to hear I needed “better pooping exercises,” it was what happened behind closed doors. Or rather, open doors.
Although I don’t need to rehash this too graphically, the process by which we check colons for prolapsing (including open-door embarrassment of all kinds) brought back a flood of trauma memories from my past, mostly caused by minor details that might not feel significant to the doctor at hand.
I won’t go into it here, but the point is: I was able to live out one experience one week, and the exact same exam with a different doctor the next and discover that details do matter. In fact, the out-of-state surgeon my other (GI) team sent me to days later immediately found the internal hernia that was causing the troubles that felt like prolapse all along, and confirmed what I had been trying to describe without success. Had I not gone to the second appointment after being told there was “nothing to be found here” at the first, I might still be suffering to this day, wondering why I misread my body so gravely.
And even just knowing how one exam can send a patient into an uncharacteristic depressive spiral, when the same invasion through different codes of conduct does not, goes to show that not all opinions or experiences are created equal. Even those from kind people. Even those from recommended people.
I knew myself even when I didn’t believe I knew myself. As a dance educator who studies every muscle down to the very last, I knew I had done my due diligence to the point where if I hadn’t been so sick, tired, and hungry at the time, I could have explained in detail exactly what 80% of a physical therapy session of that recommended nature would entail and why. Not because I know everything, but because I knew that. And that counts for something.
I don’t know why we send people away when we could do things to help them.
I had rapidly lost weight and was exhausted at the time of the appointment. I needed more options to not risk losing more (even if for temporary boosts in quality of life versus permanent solutions). I found none. And guess what happened? I lost more weight and got worse. And here we are. Worse, and attempting the reclimb while wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t gotten that second opinion.
Luckily, I’ll never have to know.
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