Proactive health care

When I get sick, I do what any other rational 28-year-old woman would do: I call my mother, complain, then ask her what I should do.

After all, she’s the person who's accompanied me to numerous doctors’ appointments over the years, nursed me back to health after ailments and surgeries, and helped make game plans after diseases diagnoses a young woman probably shouldn’t have. She's also confronted some serious heath woes herself, so she knows what she's doing.

But more than anything, my mother offers the same sage advice year after year after year: “You’re the only one who knows how you feel,” she tells me. So, do what your body is telling you to do.

I’m a big believer in being proactive about your health. My family’s medical history is nothing to be proud of. To be honest, my own isn’t either. But our own aggressive behaviors toward protecting ourselves, making appointments, getting second opinions, seeing specialists, etc. certainly has made situations better than they could've been.

So when my own boyfriend began experiencing odd vision problems, I encouraged him to get right to the doctor. He did—and the doctor told him it was a vitreous hemorrhage—severe bleeding in the gel behind that eye that can cause temporary vision loss. But he also promised that though the blood made it impossible to view the retina and other important things back there, the problem wasn’t permanent, nor did it need attention right away.

Other emergency situations were likely impossible, the doctor said, mainly because he was too young for them.

But when my boyfriend's vision worsened, he called the doctor back. He got checked once again—as the ophthalmologist assured him once more it was just an unlikely case of hemorrhaging likely caused by a head injury that never happened. But when a week later, he could barely see anything, he went back to his doctor who was sick of his calls, whose diagnosis changed from hemorrhage to “oops.” He had a retinal detachment that needed emergency surgery.

Sadly, the new doctor, the retinal specialist, said it was actually much worse than that—he had a retinal detachment, plus numerous retinal tears—and the other “good” eye wasn’t so good after all. It showed signs of the same problem, and would have ultimately lead to that sometime soon. A could-have-been easier laser surgery turned instead to a major operation and a lot of residual headaches.

You know in medical shows, when the doctor, nurses and medical assistants gather around to discuss special cases and it’s almost comically funny? That's what I experienced with him just this weekend. The miracle, the specialist said, was that he hadn’t gone completely blind right away. The problem should have been noticed and dealt with weeks ago.

Basically the situation was a lot worse than it ever should have been. But still, if my boyfriend hadn’t been proactive about his own health—and insisted on seeing his ophthalmologist yet again—the worst would have happened.

There are a lot of lessons about health care—but perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you, as the consumer, are in charge.

My mother always was a smart woman about this kind of stuff. It’s worth repeating that regardless of everything else you could depend on regarding what action you should take on your health—Google searches, a thermometer, or even your mother’s advice—you are the No. 1 indicator. You’re the only one who knows how you feel. So please, act accordingly. Oh, and maybe consider a second opinion. Pirate patches aren’t as cool as you might think. 

About the Author
Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer is Managing Editor for Benefits Selling magazine. She can be reached at kmayer@sbmedia.com

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