Many of us have been in a situation where a diagnosis completely missed the mark or we left the doctor’s office knowing the information we were given didn’t seem quite right. For some, questions have been left completely unanswered, and it’s resulted in their condition worsening. For others, obtaining a second or third opinion uncovered the correct diagnosis thus saving their life or improving their quality of life immensely. It got me thinking recently just how critical it is for all of us- old, middle-aged, and young to be not only our own advocates, but our loved one’s advocates as it relates to health. Here are three scenarios that may help you to ask more questions of yourself, your loved ones, and your physicians.
Solving The Issue On Your Own
When it comes to our kids or loved ones, it tends to be easier as the observer to pinpoint what may be contributing to their health problems. Think about how one small change in someone’s food selection could benefit them if they were to discover they had an allergy to a food they often ate? Recently, my son was complaining of a stomach ache 3 -4 times a week. He’s never been formally tested for lactose intolerance, but I figured it out early on by process of elimination. He used to cry and complain of stomach aches after he’d have cow’s milk in his cereal or drink chocolate milk from the time he was a babe. I also happen to be lactose intolerant myself, so I figured his chances of having the same issue were pretty good.
After asking him what he’s been eating recently to try to uncover the reason for all of his stomach aches, I came to realize it was in fact lactose related yet again. He would complain after eating Cheez-its, Goldfish, smoothies, milkshakes, and occasionally pizza. Since our kids aren’t always with us when they’re eating (school, after school programs, friend’s houses, etc.) it’s not always obvious what is bothering their stomach. Honestly, I was buying the goldfish and cheese flavored crackers and not thinking twice. The powdered cheese in those snacks must have been contributing to the issue. For the last week, he’s stopped eating those snacks and you guessed it, the stomach aches have completely ceased. If only every health problem were that easy to solve! Sometimes, we can actually solve health issues on our own.
Following The Commonalities When There’s No Diagnosis
Sometimes, our loved ones notice more than we give them credit for. Many years ago, I became very ill while on a business trip. I was having a lovely time at an event party until the wee hours of the night, and while chatting with co-workers, I started to feel extremely tired. I took inventory of what I had eaten..mostly chicken wings. It didn’t help that I had also been drinking cocktails, so I assumed it was a bad combo of the drink and food choice. I called it a night earlier than I had expected and headed back to my hotel room.
That night, I seriously thought I was dying of food poisoning- the pain was so bad. I started vomiting around 3 a.m. and didn’t stop until it was time to check out and head to the airport. Everyone assumed I had had one too many celebratory drinks, but I knew there was no way this was a hangover-it felt different. I ended up in the hospital for two days following my return. They discharged me and said they thought it might be pancreatitis. It was pretty much an unknown diagnosis.
What my then boyfriend (now husband) pointed out, was my symptoms seemed to weirdly mimic the same ones I had about six months prior after a meal at a hibachi restaurant. Following that meal, I had also landed in the hospital for a few days, only to have been discharged with no answers and the doctors scratching their heads.
We visited that same hibachi restaurant a few months after I returned from that business trip. And again, this time even faster than the last, I could not even walk to the car. I was weak, sweaty, and vomiting profusely only 10 minutes after eating. My mouth felt funny and my tongue felt puffy, which was a completely new symptom. I went to the ER, spent the night, and again, was discharged with no answers. Again, my boyfriend spoke up about what he noticed. I should add here that him being a chiropractor (who has studied a thing or two about the body) also helped. He had figured it out.
“You’re allergic to sesame!”
He pointed out my reaction was much more severe when it was in oil form. He had to be right! For as long as I could remember I would get stomach aches when I’d eat sesame bagels- I chalked it up to my lactose intolerance because of the cream cheese. Low and behold, it was the seeds! That business trip I had been on- I had eaten chicken wings lathered in sesame oil and seeds. The hibachi place we had dined at had cooked our meal in sesame oil. Also, it answered questions for me that went way back to my youth. There were these crackers that our neighbors always put out at parties called Sociables. I would eat like the whole box – I loved these crackers so much! And EVERY time we went to their parties, I wound up in their guest room crying and writhing pain until the wee hours of the night. We could never figure out why my stomach hurt so bad at their parties! Turns out, those crackers are sesame crackers. What an a-ha moment!
Three visits to the hospital and none of them resulted in answers. My husband had figured it out just by going through the foods I had eaten each time- and drawing a conclusion based on the most common denominator. Take note that with each allergic reaction, the symptoms worsen. Further down the road, a year or so later, I ordered Chinese takeout and double checked with the staff to see if they had cooked it in sesame. They confirmed they did not. Three bites in and it felt like I had swallowed gasoline. My throat felt like it was closing and the stabbing pains started in my stomach. This time, we avoided the hospital and waited it out to see if it would be over by morning. Thankfully, it was ( but I DO NOT suggest waiting it out- the pain was unreal). If you have these kinds of stomach aches that land you in the ER, and have also had doctors scratching their heads, think about getting tested for a food allergy, or going to a specialist to run further tests. This, for some reason, had never crossed my mind or my parent’s minds for that matter, when I was young. Sometimes the answers are literally right in front of us!
When Intuition is Critical And So is A Second Opinion
Many of you are caring for ailing parents. You’re driving them to their doctor appointments or tagging along to make sure the right questions are being asked. This is what one of our friends was doing with his father when his eyesight began to decline in one eye, along with the white of the eye turning very red. They started with a top neurologist at a local hospital and were told it was allergies. When the eye began to turn out and they returned, they were told it was an auto-immune disease. The CAT scans continued to show nothing abnormal. But something wasn’t adding up. His father’s teeth started to ache, which lead them to having three teeth removed, and the medication he was on didn’t seem to be helping the symptoms at all. When he began to see his father’s overall health rapidly decline over the next few months, he sought more answers. He decided to take him to a specialist at a university hospital- a neuro opthamologist. They had a special CAT scan machine that looked at the eye in ways that other CAT scans could not. And this was when they discovered there was a cancerous tumor that was crushing the sixth nerve. The sixth nerve is a cranial nerve that is responsible for the outward gaze. They also discovered that this cancerous tumor had stemmed from a melanoma that resided on his cheek and had metastasized to this nerve behind the eye. It was a serious diagnosis and treatment had to be aggressive to save his father.
When asked what his advice is for those that are currently searching for answers, he says to opt for university hospitals- not necessarily your local hospital. University hospitals study thousands of diseases and have more specialized advice, machines, and treatments to suggest versus a local hospital. Your local hospital studies less diseases at a time and may not have the answers because they’re not exposed to as much info. You are better off going there for things that aren’t as complex. It’s also a team dynamic at a university hospital. Why? Because a university hospital is a teaching hospital. All different kinds of doctors are invited in to give their opinion and take a look at what is going on. You’re not getting the services of one doctor with one opinion. Another helpful piece of advice he gave was making sure to track down a specialist. When something quirky is going on with one specific area of the body, it’s best to go to a doctor that specializes in that area of the body, rather than your primary care doc. The clock could be ticking on your loved one’s health when you’re not getting the answers you need from the right source.
Too often we all hear stories about people putting off going to the doctor only to later find out something is gravely wrong, or getting a misdiagnosis and being put on the wrong medication, or having no answers with worsening symptoms, etc. Always continue to search for answers for yourself and your loved ones, because when you really peel back all the layers of life that we all stress about, there is truly nothing more important than our health.