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Health View: Becoming your own advocate can save your life

By Judith Whitehead – Contributing Writer

Working in the medical field for the last several years, I have heard many stories from patients about their health care issues and health occurrences.

Having an opinion, and expressing your concerns and wishes with health care workers, can make a huge difference between favorable treatment and outcome and life or death. Doctors are not mind readers and don't always have the time to guess what is ailing you.

No one knows how you feel better than you. If you enter a hospital or doctor's office, it is your job to express how you are feeling. This will lead the health care professional to order the proper testing and prescriptions that will enable you to feel better.

Many people are afraid to speak up to a doctor for fear they will be overstepping their bounds. Doctors work for you; you must take part in your own health care to stay well.

Unfortunately many in our older population are unable to express their feelings. They may be too ill, or unable to articulate for themselves. It is imperative that someone – a family member, friend or health care proxy – be able to advocate for them. Their health outcome is dependent on it.

It's also important for loved ones to be prepared to advocate for those who are sick or chronically ill, Judith Whitehead says.

Many years ago, my father went into the ER very sick, with a high fever. The on-call nurse assumed because he was in his 90s, he had too much dementia to explain what was bothering him. It turned out he was septic and had a major infection throughout his body. Since he would not keep an IV in place, medical providers were ready to throw in the towel. No one bothered to ask if he could swallow a pill, which he could. Being his advocate at that time, I let it be known that it was not his time to join his maker. With the proper treatment, he went on to live a few more years.

Today, because of rising costs and time constraints, there can be many health problems that may go undetected during an exam. My son was having symptoms of “indigestion” which were not that at all. Because of his young age, assumptions were made and we almost lost him a few years ago. He was having a heart attack, and needed immediate medical intervention to save his life. It was the quick action of an ER doctor and staff, which recognized his symptoms and made a critical medical plan for him. He had gone to a previous hospital prior to that and was told to sit and wait until it was his turn. I attribute his life today to his insistence on being seen and the non-judgmental staff that saved his life.

If you are having a problem with your health, any problem – even if you think it may be small or annoying –  address it. If you are not satisfied with your present health care provider, get a second opinion.

It's worth considering a change in course if you see any doctor who gets offended by patients who ask for a second opinion. Doctors are humans just like you and me; they are highly trained in their fields but they can make a mistake or misjudgment as well as you or I.

Be part of your own health care, and plan to maintain good health. If you are not happy with how you feel, get another opinion. Be sure to make your wishes and feelings known when you go for health check-ups. It may save or prolong your own life, or the life of someone you love.

Judith Whitehead, of East Amherst, is a certified ophthalmic technician.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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