Saturday, January 16, 2010

Talking the Walk (26)

On Doctors (Very Briefly)

I would think that for someone with your experience, it would be a very short leap to an anti-doctor position?

Agreed. And it’s a short leap I’ve taken often. But the trouble with short leaps is that they often lead off cliffs, or into swamps, or other places you don’t want to be. As sure as I am that the battery of phenothiazines and electroshocks I received did me substantial harm, I’m equally sure that the decades I spent shunning professional help, fearing the mental health system but also unable to help myself adequately, also harmed me significantly. For twenty or twenty-five years, I got by, barely...but I didn’t thrive.

That’s a long time not to thrive.

Often, when I read statements by anti-doctor, specifically anti-psychiatry groups, I find my reactions following a Yes...Yes...Huh? progression.

Yes to the horror stories (I’ve seen and lived them). Yes to the dismay at, the doubt and criticism of what psychiatry too often is. The Huh? comes when I get to the end of the article or website and there is no mention of an alternative person or organization I should contact when I am about to cut or kill myself, or am disabled by depression or hallucinations...or when someone I know is in these dire straits.

That is one thing that complicates the doctor picture.

Here is another: I have a wonderful psychiatrist at the moment. I trust her completely. Strange, yes, and sad, that it took me thirty-five years and perhaps a dozen psychiatrists before I could say that. But I’m saying it now. Better late than never.

Here’s another complication: Most of the people who harm you don’t mean to. May mean, in fact, to help you. But harm you nonetheless, because they make mistakes, don’t know enough...or because nobody, currently, knows enough. It’s hard to be robbed of a villain. It leaves you with no one to blame outright for your suffering. A doctor performed an unnecessary surgery on my knee when I was eighteen, removing a part of the joint that I needed. With each limping, progressively arthritic step since then, I’ve wondered: Did he know? Though at times it’s simplified things to think so, I don’t really believe it. He was doing his best as he saw it...and I happened to be there.

That is one of the hardest kinds of accidents to accept. And one of the most common.

Only the platooning system of medicine interests me now. Meaning: myself as my chief doctor, consulting other doctors as need be.

The more you learn about yourself, a subject that is endless because it is always changing, the better able you will be to become your own doctor. Not a replacement for the doctor you have, but a colleague, a partner for her or him. After all, you are the world’s foremost expert on your condition. What treatment could possibly succeed without your input? Assuming, of course, your doctor will welcome a colleague. And assuming, equally, that you are willing to shoulder some of the responsibility for your own treatment.

Become–and keep becoming–your own doctor. Since no one has all the answers, look carefully and critically for the best colleagues you can find. Consider what they have to say, and decide each case–all cases being your case–as best you can. Evaluate the results, and learn from your mistakes. Even the best doctors make them. So will you.

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