I’m afraid to go to the doctor because I think I’m sick and I don’t want to know for sure. This is past the everyday-colds-and-flu level. What would you do? I haven’t told anyone else yet.
Well, the short answer is obviously: Go to the doctor. You probably knew that, right?
I cannot give medical advice, but I can offer encouragement and thoughts on how to cope with the possibility of bad news.
If you feel like you have serious symptoms, you need to see a professional, ASAP. I don’t want to make you panic, but your health is important, and with serious diseases, detecting them in a timely manner is key. Here are a few steps to bolster your bravery ask you seek support.
First, tell a close friend or therapist. Think of someone who is level headed, practical, and non-judgemental — someone who respects privacy, too! Granted, medical professionals are already trained in the importance of patient confidentiality, so that’s a great reason to talk to them.
Ask around for recommendations of medical professionals. You don’t have to tell everyone what’s up. You can just say you’re looking for a new primary care provider and tell them the key traits you’re looking for in this person. You want someone who is non-judgemental and has a good bedside manner, someone who is good at both listening to patients and explaining treatment options. Lots of people have anxiety around visiting doctors, and many are starting to understand the importance of self-advocating with medical professionals, so no one will think it’s strange when you start asking these questions. You may be surprised at how much people want to help with this process.
Another useful option is to call your insurance company and ask them to help you locate a doctor who specializes in your area of need. This is a good chance to ask questions like, “What will my out-of-pocket cost be for this visit?” and “Do I need a referral?
But here’s the important bit: make an appointment, and keep it. If you don’t have a primary care physician and asking around has yielded no good information, just go to any walk-in clinic. There, you might see an MD, but it could also be a nurse, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant. Personally, I find these people more comforting and easier to talk to than physicians themselves. Nurses often have better bedside manner than doctors, and they spend more time helping patients understand what’s happening, how to take their medications, how to dress wounds, how to use crutches, etc. In other words, they can help you with the practical side of understanding your situation. Also, at the walk-in clinic, if they think what your dealing with is very serious, they should be able to talk with you about your next steps. Make sure to ask questions like, “What do I need to do next?” Write things down if it will help you remember the key points.
Whenever I’m scared to do something that I know I need to do despite the fear, I consider two worst-case scenarios: First, what’s the worst case scenario if you do seek treatment, and second, what’s the worst case scenario if you don’t go? If you do go, the worst thing that can happen is that you find out you have a serious condition, and then you begin treatment for it, and hopefully you get better. That probably won’t be a super fun process, but what’s the alternative? If you don’t go, the worst case is that you still have the disease, but you don’t get treated for it, and it continues to get worse until something truly bad happens. Then consider the best possible outcome: You go to the doctor and find out your situation isn’t nearly as dire as you thought it was, and there’s a relatively simple treatment. That would be such a relief, wouldn’t it?
Going to the doctor may seem like a simple, basic thing that everyone is supposed to do, but lots of us don’t. When we think we’re sick, it can be really scary to consider the possibility of sharing that fear with a stranger and having them tell us something is wrong with us. It’s for the best if you can develop a comfortable relationship with a medical provider you trust, which is another good reason to visit regularly if that’s an option for you. But even if you don’t have a primary care provider, it’s worthwhile to seek professional help.
Friend, I don’t want to scare you, but I am thinking right now of my mom who recently went through treatment for a rare form of breast cancer. Cancer is a terrifying disease, and no one wants to have it or find out that a loved one has it. But I’m thinking of the day my Dad called to tell me Mom was sick. He explained that the type she had was rare but very treatable — deadly if untreated. At first, Mom had thought it was nothing but decided to check it out just to be safe. If she hadn’t taken that step, we might not have her anymore. With treatment, however, the prognosis was very good, and indeed, she has been recovering beautifully. I am so thankful that she took that step.
For the sake of everyone who loves you, please go to the doctor.