Stupid Advice Your Doctor Gave You … and what you learned from it


Photo by Jennifer Margulis

Photo by Jennifer Margulis

“When my baby turned one, my doctor told me to feed her ice cream every night, because she was measuring small for her age. It was my first child and I didn’t know better. No wonder she doesn’t like carrots. I was just clueless. Clueless. Thankfully when #2 and #3 came along I chose to listen to my doctors more selectively.” —K., mother of three in Solon, Ohio.

“An hour after our first baby was born the nurse tried to give her a Hepatitis B vaccine. I didn’t understand why we would vaccinate for a sexually transmitted disease when my husband and I both tested negative. I told the nurse we needed time to learn about it. Once home we started frantically researching, calling every doctor and nurse we knew, asking our parent friends for their advice. I also called the CDC but they never called me back. Two weeks later a doctor told me the vaccine had been withdrawn for newborns and was actually counterindicated, because it contained thimerosal, a preservative made from mercury and a known neurotoxin. I learned I needed to educate myself about the recommendations for childhood vaccinations and not blindly follow the doctor’s advice.” —J., mother of four in Ashland, Oregon (that would be yours truly but I’m writing it this way to be true to the form of this post.)

“During my first pregnancy I had sudden massive bleeding at 33 weeks. I was traveling to my parents’ home and far from my midwives, so I had to go to the hospital in my hometown, which was quite small. Fortunately the baby was doing fine, so they kept me on bedrest, but when I continued to have sporadic and significant bleeding episodes over the next day or so they said they would have to take the baby out right away the next time I had a bleed, despite the considerable risks of prematurity. We switched doctors and hospitals two more times before we found a doctor who believed in waiting and watching without intervening. The bleeding stopped and I was able to return to our home, where our son was born at full term in our birth center in Cambridge. I learned to always get a second, third, or even fourth opinion when possible (even by phone: we were in touch with our Bradley instructor and our midwives back home). It was pretty interesting to see how differently so many different medical caregivers approached this sort of emergency. I also learned to find support and information wherever you are. My husband and I found a doula and other alternative-birth support quickly which also helped us to find the right medical practice for our situation.” —C., mother of four in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“I thought my PCP had written me a year’s worth of birth control at my last pap smear but instead I found out on a Friday she’d only written me a prescription for two months and I was about to run out. The pharmacy wouldn’t give me more without a prescription and my doctor didn’t return their calls that Friday, so I had to page the emergency doctor over the weekend and have them call it in. I know emergency docs aren’t there to dispense birth control (as the dispatcher insisted and I kept insisting she put me through), but if my doctor had written a full year’s prescription, I wouldn’t have been in that situation to begin with!

The same doctor told me I didn’t have a yeast infection even though I was displaying all the symptoms. I’d gone in for a pap smear and the letter from the lab said everything was hunky dory. Then I go see a gynecologist a month later because I’m still in pain and she nonchalantly informs me that my test results DID show a yeast infection but whomever processed my test results missed it because they didn’t scroll all the way to the bottom. Although I generally like and trust doctors, these two experiences have made me feel like they’re sometimes too busy to be thorough and that I need to be better about checking everything myself.” —S., Boston, Massachusetts.

“I went into the ER for a kidney stone once and woke up in the cardiac ward because they gave me so many medications that my heart rate went through the roof. They lost the kidney stone and couldn’t test it for its chemical makeup. I learned to keep my wits about me at all times when dealing with the medical industry, have someone in the hospital with you (at all times, if possible) who feels comfortable advocating for you and respects your wishes.” —S., Oakland, California.

“When I was pregnant, the doctor’s office gave me a set of lab reports to take to the hospital where I had to get a Rhogam injection. I sat in the waiting room and there was one result that was listed as abnormal. I didn’t have time to process it because I was called back and handed over the report. I asked my doctor about it later and she said she saw nothing abnormal, but I know I saw something. I had nothing to refer to, though, to specifically ask about or research (fortunately the pregnancy turned out just fine). It bothered me not to be able to look at and think about my own information about my body. My primary’s office will not copy me on lab reports and instead send me their own recap of them, which does not make me happy. In New York state patients are NOT entitled to access lab reports unless their doctors consent. How’s that for screwy? It’s my information and I pay for it, yet I am not allowed to access it. Now I make a habit to request copies of lab reports, because I want to have my own records (so I can research things, compare results over time, and bring them with me if I see new doctors).” —B., mother of two in Buffalo, New York.

“Every time I went to the doctor my blood pressure was high. He said it was due to ‘white coat hypertension,’ meaning it was because I was nervous at the visit. Then I started reading that white coat hypertension was not always limited to doctor visits—that many doctors mistakenly think it is, but the patient’s blood pressure is really high at other times, too. I asked him for a 24-hour monitor, which he agreed to. And the result was that I had pre-hypertension and was put on meds. My doctor did not say anything about how diet can influence high blood pressure. It wasn’t until I visited a health spa that offered a no-salt diet that I realized my high blood pressure was directly linked to my high salt intake. I ended up going off my meds and watching my salt intake really closely. I learned that most doctors don’t get any training in nutrition and I would have to learn about how a healthy diet could improve my blood pressure, and overall health, on my own.” —S., mother of two in Wilton, Connecticut.

“I went to my doctor complaining of exhaustion. I wanted a sleeping pill because I was having trouble getting my sleep routine fixed after being awake so often with the baby. She was now sleeping through the night, but I wasn’t. I kept waking every couple hours with a jolt. I’d also lost a bit of weight. Some of my hair had fallen out. But my main complaint was exhaustion. I had never been that tired in my life. I told him I was so tired that I didn’t even want to stand up, and that it had suddenly gotten worse in the past few days. I told him that my glands were very swollen and that they seemed to swell a lot.

The doctor didn’t examine me. He took my self diagnosis of a sleeping issue and then decided that I must also have a mood disorder. He said something about how there’s no test for serotonin and then instead of a sleeping pill, he prescribed something that is usually given to people with bipolar disorder. He told me that it would increase my appetite and make me pleasantly sleepy at night. I tried it for three days. It didn’t help me sleep. It didn’t give me energy. It made me extremely hungry—so hungry that I couldn’t get anything done because I couldn’t stop thinking about eating.

Then I got a fever and my throat started to hurt. I went back to the doctor. I had strep. I probably had strep before and he might have realized that had he examined me like a normal doctor and actually looked in my throat. I learned that if a doctor misdiagnoses you, it’s time to change doctors. I have a new doctor now and I love him.” —A., mother of one in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.

“July 4, 2005, I came down with flu symptoms. My energy was completely gone. Lyme Disease cannot be detected in blood for a month after a tick bite, but my general practitioner did blood tests anyway. He decided I didn’t have Lyme disease but there was something wrong with my liver. I begged for another blood test a month later. Sure enough, I did have Lyme. It felt like being run over by a train. I called a friend whose husband is a contagious diseases doctor. He recommended 6 to 8 weeks of Doxycycline, since there was a delay in diagnosis. My doctor only wanted to give me three, but I insisted. A month later I saw a Lyme specialist who pronounced me cured. My reaction? No way! My immune system was shot. I sought out a whole health doctor who prescribed the herb Cat’s Claw and explained we cannot know whether the Lyme may have become chronic. I have not had a relapse, so perhaps I’m one of the lucky ones. But how infuriating early on to have my GP misdiagnose. Lyme is almost an epidemic where I live! This experience taught me to follow my intuition, listen to my body, and seek out a doctor I can trust.” —A., mother of three in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

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