I recently read an interesting article in the New York Times Health section discussing informed consent in medical treatment. Sounds exciting, right?
Informed consent – a term your doctor probably uses quickly, if at all – sounds in-depth and jargon-y and like it will take a long, painful time to get through, and I’m sick and just fix me already, would you? Wading through the medical-and-legalese can be eye-glazing and overwhelming. You probably don’t need to read this story to know what I’m talking about.
Despite this, as patients we often hastily agree to whatever our doctor recommends rather than risk appearing to not understand what our doctor is telling us, or not wanting to waste their time with our questions. This is human nature, so don’t feel bad if this sounds like you! This is also unfortunate, because whether you’re in for heart surgery or a sinus infection, you should know what your doctor plans to do with your body, what you should expect to happen because of this, and what else could happen by following the treatment plan or by rejecting it.
Sometimes this knowledge doesn’t change a treatment plan: When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, we spend an hour with my oncologist going through his proposed treatment plan, how he expected my body to respond, and what I might experience with side effects. He was very thorough and I’m sure I didn’t hear more than about 20% of what he said. Regardless, when he asked at the end if I wanted to go ahead with treatment, I said “You Bet” and we got started. But after everything sunk it, you can bet that over the next month I pestered every nurse and doctor involved in my treatment about the fine points of this drug, that pill, what does what, and why is this other thing happening. If I didn’t understand the answer, I would ask them to dumb it down. And I’m glad I did…
Sometimes this knowledge does change the plan: About two months into my chemotherapy treatment, I had turned into a rage machine. I was angry all the time, at everything, and truly awful to be around. When I realized I was livid as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning, I knew there was something going on beyond the whole “mad that I had cancer” phase. I knew that the steroid doses given to prevent nausea after a chemo treatment can make a person more prone to anger and depression, so I called my doctor. We dropped the steroid dose, and I was back to a much more normal, tolerable state. If I hadn’t been aware of that potential side effect, I may have been murdered by my family before I could finish cancer treatment.
It pays to know your treatment’s side effects, and to know your body!
This is true whether you’re in a serious situation, as I was, or if you have a mild sinus infection that your doctor wants to treat with antibiotics. I want to emphasize that in no way am I saying that you should outright reject the suggestions of your medical team. What I am saying: knowing and understanding what the plan may entail is useful knowledge, particularly when you’re paying attention to how your body actually reacts to the plan once it’s put in place. No one will know that better than you, and no one will care as much as you do.
This is why it’s so important to me that the information you see on the HealthFit Coaching website is evidence-based (i.e. has scientific research to back it up) and accurate, giving you tools to understand your body and your health, and to make decisions that YOU are confident are in your best interest.
Knowledge is power, and you have to be your own best advocate, because no one else will.