Deposit Photos: Too busy to look you in the eye

Bill (not his real name) had been going to a series of different doctors for years. He had grown up with the smoke of a nearby smelter belching into the air right above his childhood playground. Years later, at least half of his neighborhood playmates had cancer, autoimmune disease, and a host of other evil symptoms. Many had died young.

He took his story from his primary care doctor to specialists, all of whom pooh-poohed his claims that the smoke had been a factor in the illnesses he now presented with: high blood pressure, auto-immune disorders, the list went on and on. He would undergo a battery of tests, they took his blood, a diagnosis was made. He got pills. Often the pills made him far sicker. However, no matter who he went to see, this cycle would repeat. Five minutes with the doctor, no discussion, “Here, take these.”

In one instance, Bill said that his specialist had a large screen in his office which loudly promoted particular pharmaceuticals. There were pamphlets and product brochures and ads all over the office.

by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

Get Out NOW

This is a good indication you’re in the wrong room. Get the hell out, NOW. Why? Because that doc is effectively a paid shill for products that may or may not help you. In fact, more of us need to be on the alert for signs that our docs don’t care about us, they care about the pharma payoffs they receive. If you’re in doubt, please read:

Bill dumped the pills and did his own research. He found a doctor who had written a book about a dietary regimen that could potentially help his condition. He threw himself into that dietary discipline, and within a few months, the key markers of one of his primary illnesses had dropped into the normal levels- without pharmaceuticals and all their evil side effects.

Hearing Heals

Bill’s story is ongoing, but indicative of what many of us experience. In a system that incentivizes numbers rather than quality, too many of our docs don’t have time or the financial incentive to do any real doctoring. Bill reported consistent behavior among all the specialists he visited: limited time, an unwillingness to listen, a denouncement of his own knowledge and experience to the extent that he was scoffed at or shamed.

It’s hard to imagine a more toxic environment.

Eventually he found a medical doctor who ran a holistic practice in Albuquerque Dr. Angelique Hart spent hours with Bill going over his records, his history, his childhood, his tests. Bill reported that the simple act of being heard, his experience validated, went a long way towards establishing trust and an environment for healing. Dr. Hart collaborates with other specialists who are treating Bill, which is key for his overall healing.

Deposit photos

Finding a Doctor for You

The search for a doctor that you feel good about working with begins on line and through referrals from friends. You also have to ensure that your final choice shows up in your plan so that you’re covered. You conduct due diligence to find out about malpractice suits and any disciplinary actions taken against your chosen docs. If you’ve narrowed down your choices to a short list, now it’s time to test the waters.

Think carefully about your expectations. What’s the most important to you? Bedside manner? The time they take and willingness to listen? Their competency? How interested they are in your wellness? All the above? Keep these in mind when you show up. Men and women can differ in what they want from a doctor.

From the time you walk in you’re going to be bombarded with impressions. Is the waiting room like an internment camp with screaming kids and no seats available? Did you have to wait hours for an appointment for which you were on time, screwing up your day? How did the front desk staff treat you? With respect? or like you’re on the bread line?

How is the waiting room decorated? Are you stuck listening to some loud program or pharma ads? Has there been care taken to ensure your comfort during your wait? Do people next to you complain bitterly about this office and its services? If you express concern about your wait time, is the staff rude?

The Show is ON

From the time your new doc walks into your exam room, they are on the clock and on the dock. You’re observing everything from eye contact to “I don’t like to be questioned” if you challenge an assumption or statement. How do you feel? How much time does this doc give to your life circumstances, your world, your stressors? For example, a great many of our chronic illnesses are caused by poor lifestyle choices. If you’ve got a good doc, you’ll be grilled about your diet, exercise, drinking and drug habits, your family history and other salient details. If they don’t have time for this, get up and walk out. You aren’t just a symptom. You are a complex organism that prefers to be well, and something in your world is awry. Your doctor’s job, with your help, is to identify what is preventing wellness.

By the same token and let’s be clear, if you aren’t willing to own up to what you’re doing to ruin your health and you expect a doctor to give you a magical answer to problems you’re creating, then you are living in la la land. While plenty of docs are quite happy to medicate just the symptoms, the only true path to wellness is to find the root causes. We have the primary role in those root causes. To deny them, or to expect a doctor to somehow fix your obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or other lifestyle illnesses without your taking full responsibility for your health is a setup not only for frustration but also for failure. Just as your doctor is under scrutiny, so are you. Good docs don’t like getting caught up in the negative spiral of patients in denial. So even if you’ve found a great doctor, it’s your job to be a great patient.

An Assembly Line of Minimal Care

More than half of us feel rushed through our appointments. This doesn’t promote trust or healing. It’s also a guarantee that your doc isn’t invested in you, but rather ticking off another patient on the assembly line. If it takes months to get in, and then you wait an extra hour, and then the doc can’t be bothered to make an investment in understanding you, get up and walk out.

Healers listen. Real doctors are in the business of creating wellness and working on preventative care. If your new doc leaps at pills or procedures (or both) as first options, chances are their commitment is to profits rather than patient success. Healing happens when we-- both the doctor and ourselves — trust the body’s great wisdom and ability to heal itself with good nutrition, designed for our unique bodies, exercise, and life purpose. Pills and procedures should be well down the list after we make appropriate adjustments in any lifestyle habits that may be causing us pain and disease.

Just because your doc has a lot of accolades and achievements doesn’t make them a good doctor for you. Bill found that some of the most publicly-lauded doctors were more interested in pushing a rigid agenda rather than accepting that perhaps what they recommended didn’t work. That kind of egocentric addiction to being right can kill. The body is a universe unto itself, with vast differences from one patient to another.

A Good Doc is a Learning Doc

No matter how well-trained your doctor or specialist is, their learning often largely stops right about the time they enter or open a practice. Since medical research moves at such a quick pace, it’s almost impossible for them to keep up. Good docs keep learning. Above all they learn with you. This means you need to walk in on time, prepared with research of your own, questions you need answered. At times you may find yourself informing your doc about research and updates they were clueless about. How they respond to this is very telling.

You Own Your Results

While modern medicine offers some terrific cures, a large part of the end result is up to us. Let’s say for example that you seek out a liposuction procedure to get rid of unwanted fat. There is an implied promise of the perfect body forever. One procedure and that belly, those hip pads are gone forever. This is a lie. Why? Because as any good surgeon will tell you that if you don’t change your eating habits and lifestyle choices, that excess fat will be stored elsewhere. Sure, you can chase the fat with multiple procedures, but not only is that hugely risky, but after a while, the fat simply forms around organs where it can’t be sucked out. Excess calories stored as fat have to go somewhere. Life finds a way. No reputable doctor wants his reputation attached to a freak show, Michael Jackson notwithstanding.

The same goes for obtaining results from a weight loss program, an improvement in cardiac health. Once you and your doctor have gained those results, it’s up to you to maintain them. A good doc will fire a patient who turns into a liability to himself and to the doctor’s practice. As well they should. A good doc will respectfully challenge your desire to have that pill you saw advertised on TV rather than simply prescribe it. A good doctor will be clear with you if you’re not a good fit, if you’re not committed to getting well because of your choices. Hard to hear, but it might be a necessary wake-up call. Nobody wants to work with a committed victim. A doctor, like anyone else wants successes. There are people absolutely determined to play “Stump the Doctor” going from specialist to specialist, inordinately proud of their mystery disease. Hey, have at. If you like being continually stuck for blood, pooping into containers and spending your life in medical hell, be our guest. But this isn’t the doctors’ fault. It’s yours. This isn’t the same as a doc who doesn’t listen. This is a patient who does NOT wish to be well. Big diff.

My primary care nurse at the VA reminds me that she is constantly learning when I visit because I bring books, research papers and articles that she takes the time to review. She is overwhelmed, as are many, but she is committed to staying open and keeping up. That has led to a high-trust relationship. It’s up to us to be knowledgeable about what ails us to the best of our ability, be respectful but clear about what we want and why, and to be open to learning. As our docs should be. If your doc dismisses a question or concern that is important to you, get up and walk out. If they are offended at being questioned about a pill or procedure before taking a less invasive path, get up and walk out. This is YOUR body. You have to live with the long term effects or mistakes of a procedure. You have every right to question.

On the other hand, your doc has every right to expect you to be on time, know and be clear about your issues and expectations, and to be respectful. Be open, soft and curious, and with luck, your doctor will be, too.

With the fundamental of First Do No Harm on the part of good doctoring, paired with First, Have Reasonable Expectations combined with solid research on our part, we have a better chance to build trust. A good doc is a partner as you learn what works. Our vibrant health is ultimately our responsibility, a lifetime commitment, and a matter of choice. Be well or not be well. Finding a doc who is engaged on that journey to full wellness is part of that responsibility.

Doctor-patient relationships are potentially life-time partnerships. That trust is earned by both parties. If you are both willing to be vulnerable about what you don’t know, willing to learn together about the marvelous workings of your unique needs, and enter this journey with mutual respect, you have a partner for life who is committed to keeping you well rather than simply medicated.