December 2000

We have learned about what you need to know by talking to health care consumers. The following personal stories are examples of how we have learned from experience.

Wait, I have questions.

A husband was admitted to the hospital to undergo testing for some recent symptoms he had developed. His wife was with him when the neurologist came in to tell them the results. The physician remained standing, and abruptly announced that the man had multiple sclerosis (MS).

The wife surmised that he was preparing to leave, and quickly positioned herself between him and the door. She said that they had many questions and needed a lot more information about MS. The physician replied that he was very busy and needed to go see some other patients. The wife politely but firmly told him, "You can't give us such devastating news and then just leave. You should have known that we would have questions, and scheduled enough time to talk with us." The physician sat down and answered their questions.


I usually cannot think of anything to say when I get unexpected news. What I have learned to do is give myself time so I can get the answers I need. You can say, I am shocked with this information and know I will have lots of questions. When are you available to answer my questions? This gives you time to collect yourself and decide what questions you have. It also makes it clear that you need to talk more.

If you cannot get your provider to talk to you, most hospitals have a patient representative and HMO's have a patient advocate or ombudsman you can ask for assistance. You have a right to have ALL your questions answered.

We are all used to reporting symptoms to our health care providers, so the provider can treat them. But what do you do if the provider does not believe you have a problem? Mrs. Smith and her daughter Ann found themselves in this situation:

Anyone listening?

Mrs. Smith had been on chemotherapy for her cancer for a few months. Her daughter Ann told the doctor that she was becoming very ill with the chemotherapy. The doctor replied that "she shouldn't be that sick," and left the room. Ann insisted to the nurse that the chemotherapy was making her mother very ill. The nurse did further tests and discovered that Mrs. Smith was in renal failure (her kidneys were not working correctly). She was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital.


Ann teaches us a very important lesson. If a health care provider does not believe your symptoms, you need to find another provider. Sometimes it is not possible to actually change providers. In that case, you need to be firm with the provider you have, and insist that he or she check out your complaint. Also, report the symptoms to everyone involved in the patient's care - specialists, interns, nurses, and therapists as well as the primary doctor. The more people you tell, the more likely it is that someone will listen.

Health Care Answers uses stories of real people trying to take care of their health. Tell us your story. The stories we use in our publications are from people like you. The purpose of these true stories is to help others learn how to use the medical system more effectively. Click here if you want to submit a story.

Check back next month for more Personal Stories.

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