Learning to trust the wisdom of our bodies, finally
My body is wiser than I have often given her credit for. She knows when something is wrong. I am learning to not only listen, but to advocate and fight for her.
I recently had some symptoms of something that I have experienced before. Symptoms of a urinary tract infection. Not uncommon among women, and even more so as we age.
Without going into too many details and too much information, suffice it to say (and those readers who have experienced this condition will understand what I am referring to here), the symptoms can be quite uncomfortable.
It was time to contact my doctor that day, a Thursday. I was aware that the weekend was coming and I wanted to begin treating this before then, before the weekend arrived, and my then not being able to contact my doctor again until Monday.
My primary doctor had another physician (who was helping her) respond to me. This physician requested a urine sample. A good start.
Preliminary results confirmed my tentative diagnosis. My doctor sent me an email that she wanted to wait for the results of the additional urine culture that could take 48–72 hours before prescribing antibiotics.
I truly understand the need to be cautious when prescribing antibiotics, as they have been overprescribed in the past and we can then overuse them to the point where they become ineffective. I understand this and I agree.
And I also know my body. I knew that I could not tolerate a weekend of worsening symptoms. The discomfort was continuing and at times beginning to become worse.
I want to give some history here about my relationship with my doctor from several months ago. My last phone call with her had been challenging for me. (I wrote about this previously in a post called A Letter To My Doctor.) I felt rushed through the call, not really seen or heard. Like an item on her list and not like one of her patients.
Yet I was, and am, a patient who needs the medicine of my doctor’s attention as much as I need the other medicines. I do not need a lot of attention. I simply need to feel seen and heard in the brief span of our interaction. I know how busy doctors are and how they are pushed to see too many patients in too short of a period of time. I was not asking for quantity. I was asking for quality.
I decided to call the advice nurse for assistance. She listened, reflected what I said, validated my concerns. She wanted to write a message to my doctor stating that I wanted the antibiotics before the weekend. That if the culture that we were waiting for came back as negative, I could stop the medication at that time.
I noticed that when this advice nurse paraphrased what I was saying, I was uncomfortable with how it sounded like I was making a demand of my doctor. Who was I to demand anything? She was the doctor, after all.
And yet, I also knew that I did not need to tolerate a weekend of possibly worsening symptoms. Or worry about any damage that allowing a possible infection to continue might cause.
I agreed to have the advice nurse leave the message for my doctor.
I soon received a message from my doctor’s office staff that a prescription for antibiotics was now available for me at the pharmacy.
And, interestingly enough, I felt some guilt receiving this message. Like I had broken some rules, asked for too much, been one of those patients who are a pain to deal with. That I was being pushy, whiny, non compliant. (I know some of the terms that are sometimes used to refer to certain patients or their family members, having retired two years ago as a social worker in a nursing facility and having had the opportunity to work with quite a few doctors and nurses. Some of them were wonderful, others were more of a challenge for me to deal with. Enough said about that right now.)
I pushed forward and went to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription, so that I would have it for the weekend. I decided that I would begin it that evening, if things didn’t feel better.
And then something interesting happened.
There was an email from my doctor. The communication from her felt softer in tone. She wrote that she noticed that I had picked up my prescription from the pharmacy, and that she was glad that I did and that I should begin taking them right away. The lab results had come in and indicated that the medication was indeed needed. And she went on to write that she hoped that I would feel better each day.
Ah, the wisdom of our bodies. The importance of listening to what they tell us. The need to advocate and fight for these precious bodies that we inhabit for a while. We need to remember that we are, after all, the ones who have been living in and walking around in these bodies for all of these years.
We know when something is not quite right. We know what we are talking about. We are not the doctors, but we are an important and necessary part of the treatment team. We have to be our own first primary care doctors, teaming up with our physicians, but not abdicating all of our power, wisdom and knowledge to them.
This is such a vital lesson to keep learning. The trusting of self. The inclusion of the wisdom and voices of that self in any treatment and diagnosis. The ownership of our wisdom and the right to speak it and have it heard. One more gift of aging. It has taken me years to arrive here.
I am grateful for my doctors and all the wonderful care that they provide. I am grateful for all the advances in medicine, the vaccines, the treatments.
I am also grateful for my own inner physician. Her wisdom, persistence, courage, and voice inside me. I can hear her so much more clearly now.