by Sonia Gow
About 20 years ago I was ill with a mystery ailment. The symptoms were flu-like and I felt totally drained of energy. My doctor said he couldn't help me because he didn't know what I had, how I got it, how long I would have it, or how I could feel better. Basically, I was on my own.
This was the beginning of my journey to figure out how I could regain and maintain my good health. I read everything I could about it, altered my diet and exercised. Then, because I enjoyed the exercise and I felt so much better, I became a fitness professional so I could help others enjoy exercise and feel better, too.
I was supposed to work with healthy people but because my focus is working with people over 50 years of age, I never met any. Most "boomers" are taking at least one prescribed medication, and frequently many more, usually related to hypertension or cholesterol. For the past few years I've been working primarily with people living with Parkinson's disease and they are prescribed numerous medications, as are many of their partners or caregivers.
Because of all the medical care my friends receive, there are lots of stories about their visits to the doctors and about their treatments, but what really hits home with me is how this all affects their lives. How their activities are limited or the time it takes for medical appointments. There are family activities and other fun things they miss out on. I recently heard this referred to as "missed opportunities".
While the physical, emotional, and financial aspects are easily acknowledged as having value, these lost opportunities frequently are not. But they do have value. They are about our lives.
Recently I discovered several books written by doctors and journalists about overdiagnosis and overtreatment, and they confirmed what I already suspected - that people were not only being tested and treated unnecessarily but that some were being harmed, too. They thought they were doing the right thing by following their doctors' orders but were unaware of the harms or that there might be other options, and they were unnecessarily enduring additional hardship.
What is wonderful about Dr. Wen's book, When Doctor's Don't Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests, is that she not only explains the problems but offers user-friendly suggestions on how to speak up and work with your doctor to ensure that you receive the treatment you need for the ailments you have and avoid medical treatment for the ones you don’t have
I am so pleased to see that more awareness is being directed to overdiagnosis and overtreatment. I started writing a blog, Patients Are People Too, to direct other patients to the information that's out there so they can make better decisions. .
I never did get a definitive answer about my mystery ailment from any of the doctors I've seen over the years, so I guess the first one did me a favor. Because of him, I've been able to figure out what works best for me. I hope you'll be encouraged to do the same.
Sonia Gow is a patient—and person—and blogs at patientsarepeople.com.