Doctors: possibly the world’s worst patients

Some of us are doctors, but all of us will become patients. One day, for some reason or another, we will find ourselves as if in some twisted dream: we, the doctor, sitting in a gown, and another doctor asking us questions, probing us, lecturing us about the importance of preventive health.

Other people may think that because of our advanced training, we are capable of doctoring ourselves. But the truth is, as Eric Manheimer writes, “…my own experience with illness taught me a simpler truth: when it comes to their own health, doctors are as irrational as everyone else.”

One seasoned doctor at my hospital regaled us with stories about colleagues of hers who treated their pulmonary embolis with antibiotics, a cardiologist who was having dyspnea with exertion so performed exercise stress test on himself and gave himself an MI, etc. She herself once treated her pancreatitis with ranitidine, thinking it was reflux. Having a medical education can be dangerous for one’s health!

David Mokotoff has a familiar anecdote:

In May 2011, after too many doses of Ibuprofen for a different malady, I had severe chest pain one night causing me to flee to the ER. As a cardiologist, I was of course convinced that I was having an MI. Despite a normal EKG, enzymes, and recent normal perfusion stress test, I persuaded one of my partners do a cath. After the pre-med sedation it was easy, and I was surprised when he told me my arteries were normal. Not possible I thought. After all, I have high cholesterol, Type A personality, and strong family history of early heart disease, (at least on my father’s side). I was so stunned in fact that the next day I had to go look at the pictures myself. A week later, as an outpatient, I had an EGD that confirmed severe erosive gastritis from the NSAID meds. Goodbye Advil, and hello Prilosec.

There’s also the tricky issue of being a doctor who treats other doctors and their family members. Most of the time, doctors are good sports about being patients, and there is an added sense of collegiality to the relationship. However, I’ve found that some doctors become imperious. They demand certain treatments, are non-compliant, and passive-aggressively question your own training. I’ve also felt that with this same subset of arrogant doctors-as-patients, there’s added pressure when attending to their family members–you can’t shake the feeling that they’re always watching you, and they know what you’re doing right…and wrong.

Physicians: have you ever treated yourself for something that you probably should have taken to one of your colleagues? Or, have you ever had a difficult encounter with a patient who was also a physician?

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