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The Stigmatization of Seeking Medical Care

Guest post by Lady Quirky, a nurse practitioner who blogs at Accidental Boxer
Please visit her blog, Accidental Boxer, to read the full version

Social media is a dangerous place for sick people. In our conspiracy theory soaked culture, we are at the mercy of armchair diagnosticians. The stigmatization of seeking medical care has become rampant in our holistic, organic, supplement inhaling society. I do believe there is a role for complementary medicine; however it should not replace sound medical advice.

Every day, I see things that make me cringe. Self-appointed experts who have “done my research,” are perpetuating a cycle of misinformed self-righteousness, the exact thing that they accuse the medical establishment of doing.  Someone posts that they have been diagnosed with cancer. Immediately, there are a plethora of well-meaning supporters.

  • You can fight this!
  • Stay strong.
  • My cousin’s aunt had a friend’s husband’s cousin had that EXACT cancer, she beat it by eating the placenta of a virgin.
  • Take this vitamin, I do. I did not get cancer.
  • Go to Mexico and get peach pits- they are proven to cure cancer.
  • The FDA wants to hide the cure, so they can sell you chemotherapy.
  • Ignore that doctor, you can beat this if you try hard enough.
  • No one dies from cancer.
  • Read this website.
  • Prayer cures everything!
  • Your flu vaccine gave you cancer.
  • Eat organic vegetables. No meat. Vegetarians don’t get cancer.
  • Avoid gluten, it gives you cancer.

A lot of patients out there had crappy doctors. They were not treated as a whole person. As a reasonable, responsible, and rational person, you have an obligation to be an informed consumer. This is contingent on your ability to discern the validity of your sources. If you believe that your healthcare team is corrupt and seeking to harm you, then you have an obligation to seek care elsewhere. If you feel that your provider is inept, you need a new healthcare provider.

Healthcare providers seek to provide safe, effective, and accessible care. Evidence Based Medicine means that your doctor is adding to their knowledge base with continuing education, in order to take the best care of you and your family. They collect information about you (the patient) and use those findings to seek answers. They also understand the difference between correlation and causation.

I have ADHD. I was not diagnosed as a child, and have a complicated educational background as a direct result of no treatment. Now, I am a Nurse Practitioner with an excellent college track record. My son was diagnosed earlier. We knew what to look for. We are not on the same treatment. What worked for me, did not work as well for him. We have utilized medication and dietary changes, along with behavior modification.

There are people (I call them “asshats”) who judge me for my choices regarding my family’s medical care. They did their research. “ADHD is Bullshit!” “ADHD is invented by pharmaceutical companies because they don’t want to cure cancer or AIDS.” If only I were a better mother, I would have sought their advice prior to seeking a professional.

Every situation is unique, and it is dangerous to assume that one person’s story of a cure is applicable to you, or even accurate. Most people use anecdotal evidence as their go to for sharing what they understand about a disease. Frankly, it is a private matter, and it should be left to the patient and their medical team to evaluate.

There are a multitude of factors that must be considered, and a proper risk/benefit analysis should be performed. In other words, are the potential benefits worth the potential risk? This should include treatment options versus opting not to treat.

Here are some tips for offering medical advice:

  1. Just Don’t.
  2. Tell long stories about exactly what they need to do.
  3. Offer the website for the new miracle cure.
  4. Invite them to your prayer circle, which provided many cures.
  5. Judge their lifestyle choices and condemn their morality.
  6. Gossip about others’ personal medical conditions.
  7. Create an action plan for intervention. They really do need your help, they just don’t know it yet.
  8. Actually, go back to the first point (1) unless you are a trained medical professional whose opinion was sought.

Come on everyone, stop assuming you are an expert because you read something on Wikipedia, Web-MD, some blog, or Fox News. Do not use the guy down the street who once knew someone who had a friend who ___ (fill in the blank). Please find a professional.

By ΠιCΘLΣ

Life is short, so let’s be decent.

66 replies on “The Stigmatization of Seeking Medical Care”

Amen! I have no patience for anything but (the best available) empirical evidence when it comes to science. Naturally, we have to be cognisant that science is still learning.
A family member of mine did not receive timely treatment because of the intervention of a self-proclaimed expert. An easily reversible condition then has become a permanent feature now, decades on.
LadyQuirky, your tip on offering medical advice is spot on. Thank you for sharing Nyki.

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Thanks, mGm. We live in an era where an alarming number of people believe that having an opinion means they’re right. Having the right to an opinion clears the way for discussion. Even my diagnosticians use the word, “likely” or “high probability” to me because the evidence can point in several directions.

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I realize this kind of reply might not encourage discussion, but I just could not agree more with this posting. So true… 🙂 My thoughts, exactly.

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Thank you so much for reading. Lady Quirky, as you know, is a nurse. I know she must deal with a lot of patients who were treated by friends, relatives and well wishers before finally seeking medical attention. A few hours after this post went live, one of my readers diagnosed me by email. She’d never met me before and had no access to my medical history. People don’t listen, even when you tell them where your boundaries are. Best wishes.

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I notice that in American culture, at least, seeking any kind of help is stigmatized. There’s this pervasive philosophy that you’re supposed to get out of any bad situation yourself. Why can’t you will yourself out of poverty? And this extends to illness. Oh, you’ve been diagnosed with cancer? Well, if you practice positive thinking, the cancer will go away. Your insurance won’t pay for your treatment? You should be able to heal yourself with diet and lifestyle. What’s wrong with you that you need outside help? I’m not sure most people even realize the degree to which this mentality has seeped into and poisoned our society.

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LQ, an awesome person from Weisserwatercolours has commented on your guest post. He speaks of a traumatic experience that affected him in childhood, which was helped by professional medical practitioners. Please come and have a read. x

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I am a survivor of 3 years of childhood sexual abuse. Without talk therapists and psychiatrists and counsellors, I would never had had the courage to follow the truth of what was driving my behaviours, and then do what had to be done to allow healing. Without Wellbutrin and Quetiapine (at night for ptsd dreams), and an understanding M.D. willing to help me help me, I would not be going into my 12th year of gay married life with my LPN husband, or have the loving support of my daughter and a life based on the truth of who I am inside. Professional medical practitioners and clinicians saved my life. Literally. Thank you for your courageous blog. I wish you peace of mind and heart

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Thank you so much for reading this guest post and sharing your story. I’m warmed by this because you are well and have the support of people you love and who love you in equal measure. I am happy that you were able to seek the right kind of help and that it was effective in helping you along your journey. Stay well and best wishes, x

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This makes me so happy. It is not every day that I get to hear someone praising the people who have been there for them in a professional capacity. It is amazing how life can change when you are willing to do the work to find healing.
Even when we have faced nightmarish pasts- we can find love and wellness. Thank you for sharing a little about your story. It gives me the courage to keep on fighting for my dreams.
I also have a history of childhood trauma, and I was one of the lucky ones who had a therapist who helped me realize that I was so much more than my past. It sounds like you may have had the same.

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It is a good advicse but keep in mind that professionals are not always right and do not know everything. They are humans and we all make mistakes. It would be wise to seek the advice of several professionals before taking any major decisions. Here I am not talking about curing a flu but more serious condition. Thank you for sharing. I hope this helps.

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In my ummm… professionalism opinion, that is where having a good primary care provider helps. They will know who you should see, and they can find someone that is the best qualified to help you with finding the right resources. A good physician never hesitates to seek help when it is warranted. I recommend having a good relationship with your PCP.

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Important to keep in mind. Thank for sharing! In today’s technology world, it’s scary how simple it is to diagnose ourselves
just by “googling” or logging on to social media. Comparing symptoms and whatnot. People come with strange excuses for why they choose not to seek medical care. There is a reason why we have professionals – use them!

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Ask anyone who has gone to nursing school or medical school. Every disease has vague symptoms. Our first semester of Patho- we were all convinced we were dying. We had every disease that we were taught about. Be very careful googling symptoms…

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I have a visual which was inborn, so I have a lot of experience of people giving me their “expert” opinions on what I should do. Despite of explaining to them about the futility of their advices, many of them would insist that they really “work”. According to several doctors, my eye problem is a very rare case and no medical research has been done regarding it. We have gone to several countries like the US and several European countries and everyone of the doctors gave the same opinion.

So, I have to go to my ophthalmologist every four months for checkups. Others would tell me to not go to the doctor anymore since they know some “cures” to my condition that is very effective. They just don’t understand that we have already tried many things before but with no luck.

Also, for some reason, they can’t find an appropriate glasses for me no matter how hard they try. I literally have hundreds of useless glasses since they were unable to make the right one for me. Even though I already told this to people, they would still recommend me to go to some stupid optometrists’ shops haha :)…

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Hello and thanks for sharing your personal “Bread” story. I do understand the frustration. Imagine growing up with the nightmare of having people talk to you as if it were all your fault and then about you as if you weren’t there. I understand why this is a personal issue for you, as I’m been through it myself. I just hate when people don’t listen when you say “I’m not easily fixed and I have it under control, please let me be.” It’s bad enough you can’t do anything to help yourself and your body is wired that way to rebel against you, but having people tell you that you’re basically an idiot has got to be the most shocking thing of all. I just had to tell off a friend who insists that her exclusive supplements are the answer to eternal life but I told her that the active ingredients are on my list of banned food products. I might go into anaphylactic shock. Is there a cure for death in that case? She says, her doctor is a doctor and he selling it at his office so … please let him explain the benefits of it for ninety minutes. Can you fire friends for being daft? Please, AB, tell me the answer.

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I remembered awhile ago that someone recommended me some sort of magical eye-drops that’s supposed to be the panacea of all eye problems. So, I asked my doctor if I can use that particular eye-drops. He said that I can’t. Then I nonetheless thank him for trying to recommend me something and explained to him what my doctor told to me. That’s when he told me to not to listen to my doctor since my doctor apparently didn’t know what he was talking about. Oh well…

I also hate it when others tell me to go and pray to some Chinese gods or go to some witchdoctors. While I don’t have anything against them, I also don’t intend to go to them for “treatment”. I have accepted long ago that my eye condition is most likely incurable, so I don’t really have an urgency to find a cure.

Your friend must be slow on the uptake, like several of the people I know. Even when I explain my situation to them slowly, it seems that they don’t understand a word of what I said.

I have fired several of my “friends” before, so it can be done. I also regularly throw my plastic friends on the trash as well. Our trash collector is quite punctual so I can easily get rid of them :).

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I might borrow your trash collector. Thanks for that. I’m sorry to hear about your condition and it’s dire state but what’s worse is the chronic lack of support from people who are just too stubborn. It should be a straightforward decision to look after ourselves first and for people to respect that. x

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I don’t really let my “disability” affect my life. I didn’t requested exam extensions when I was still studying despite of my teachers’ recommendation because I don’t want them to see me as a burden. Every time I made a mistake, I don’t blame my visual impairment to cover it. So, I am sometimes very surprised how insensitive some people can be. Sometimes, others would ask me if I avail the HK gov. monthly stipend for people with disabilities or question me why I don’t avail the card that would give me 20% discounts on stores and transportation. I have a good paying job in the first place, so why would I avail those services anyway? I have pushed myself to study very hard so that I could have a better job.

However, I still consider myself lucky since I still have some friends that truly understand my situation, that’s more important for me.

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Exactly, why are people trying to “fix” a problem that you don’t perceive? That’s the part that bothers me. It’s none of their business. Also, I would not call what you have a disability. It’s a condition that you’re living with. I’m not being PC here. It’s just so wrong to judge. The labels annoy me and people telling you to get a discount card is awful. Sadly it is an incurable trait.

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I find it helpful to purge the unnecessary parts of my life, and sometimes that includes people too. It is very difficult when people do not respect the boundaries you try to keep in place for your own sanity. Boundaries are important, and I am always surprised at the relief I get when the negativity is finally gone.

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I agree. I don’t need many “a lot of friends” anyway. All I need is my family and a few friends that truly understand me.

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I love how people can be so sure that they know just the right person or cure. It amazes me that they assume that you have not already pursued these options.
Seriously, how rude. I know they are trying to help…. but, Seriously?

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When I was 8 years old, a friend of my grandfather told us to go to a witchdoctor. I really didn’t want to go there, but my grandfather repeatedly insist that I should try it first, which annoyed the hell out of me. So I complied just to get it over with.

That’s one of the most boring BS that happened in my life (and it has tough competitions like super long flight delays and useless but tedious homework). First, I have to wait for freakin’ 7 hours since he’s very famous apparently. Then when it’s my turn, he just put two stupid little stones on my eyelids. They were supposedly to be able to “absorb” the negative energy from my eyes… He told me to not move and it took 2 hours before he removed them. Then he repeatedly waved some plant at me while praying in gobbledegook.

Afterwards, he askef me if I could now see better lol. I really wanna tell him that I’m already seeing red in anger. When I told him that it had no effect, he told me that I should “have faith” for it to be effective… Oh my God, that’s just too crazy for me 🙂

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Thanks so much for sharing this, AB. It is important for readers to understand what this feels like. When a person has a condition and the less understanding people are so anxious to “fix” the problem that instead of allowing the person to thrive, they end up doing untold damage. It’s great that you have a sense of humour about it but I know it’s not “funny.”

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Well, it’s not really funny, especially during that time. In fact, I was very angry. But in hindsight, I just focus more on the ridiculousness of that event… Being frustrated about it won’t help me anyway.

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I understand what you mean and telling us here what that feels like is really imporant. It’s just that I couldn’t help but laugh when you said “gobbledygook” because some very “modern” people talk in that unknown language. I am so glad I asked Lady Quirky to post here because I’ve gotten to understand you a lot better. It’s so simple to be caring and sensitive: “Don’t interfere” … and yet… I hope you’re having a great afternoon.

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Yes, I always hear people speaking in this very incomprehensible language. 🙂

Btw, I just realized now that gobbledegook can also be spelled as gobbledygook.

I agree, it’s a very simple concept but still, many people don’t get it.

Thanks, and have a nice day as well.

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Yet another example of people using their faith to attack others. I cannot believe how many times I have been chastised for not having faith in nonsensical, magical, fairy tales. Ugh. I find it maddening!

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I really have nothing against those witchdoctors and gods. If others really thought that their illness was cured by them, then good for them. However, what I don’t like is when others insist repeatedly that I myself should go to them. They should understand that no means no…

Also, many of these witchdoctors do some mediocre deceptions and tricks to make people to believe that they possessed power. Give me a break… I was a professional magician before, so I know when someone is deceiving others, that was my job before, though I did it for entertainment purposes only, not for fooling others.

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I couldn’t agree more. Anecdotal evidence, pseudoscience, prayers, vitamins, so many things are touted as the elixirs of the age. Are any of them effective? Who knows? We all want magic cures, instantaneous remedies. Modern medicine, in most cases, cannot provide that. So the drive to try alternative therapies is strong. I wouldn’t have any problem with system of medicine as long as its therapeutic interventions went through rigorous analysis. Without that, I fear we have only Allopathy to fall back on. Does it have the cure for everything? Of course not. Is it in any way complete? By George, NO! We are massively ignorant and we admit that. But it’s the most we know and it’s been through a lot ofstudy and analysis before it enters our body. Nicely written.

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I am all about trying to be healthy, and being willing to try supplements and whatnot. Sometimes, the placebo effect is real, and one can only hope that they are using a truly benign substance in their search for a miracle.

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I never stop patients from trying out whatever alternate therapies they want to indulge in. I tell them that I don’t know what good it will do, but I hope that it won’t do any harm, and at least they’ll feel satisfied that they tried out everything. I just try to ensure they don’t stop my treatment in the interim.

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Sometimes the hardest part of my job is when there is nothing to be done.
And, because the human body has the amazing ability to fight infection, and to try to heal itself, sometimes the only thing I can do is support the body while it tries to heal. It can be maddening for families and patients… But, we are not magicians… all we can do is what we can do… we do our best, and hope for the best.

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Amazing! Thank you! My daughter has ADHD and when I told her primary care doctor what the psychiatrist diagnosed and the medication, he shook his head disapprovingly. Made me feel like I just couldn’t handle my child. Now she’s doing amazing in school Thanks to the medication and working together with the psychiatrist. Again awesome post!

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I’m so glad this reached you, as a parent of an ADHD child. It’s hard when experts disagree with each other. It is a difficult place to be in. No wonder we patients get caught up in the middle, not knowing what to believe. The Nurse will be in to see you shortly. x

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There is the assumption that because some providers may have overprescribed the medications, or some parents or teachers wanted to self- diagnose the problem, that NO ONE has it. The medication was not a magic cure, but combined with behavior therapy and some dietary modifications, it is easier to do the tasks required for successful and productive living. The best part? My son is being inducted to The National Honor Society on Monday. This is how I know that listening to a doctor was the right thing to do.

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I have had many people, professional and lay person, judge my choices regarding my son’s medical care. I trust the doctor we see, and he has been very attentive over the years. Now, the best thing? My son is going to be inducted to The National Honor Society on Monday. He is very bright, and able to complete the work to prove it. It is not all easy, and there are still lots of things he struggles with- organization, remembering to tell me stuff, turning in the homework he completed. But, it has steadily gotten better. It is truly debilitating when you cannot focus long enough to complete any work. So, I believe that especially with something that is so subjective, the safest thing is to see an expert in the area that you are concerned about. That has worked pretty well for me in the past.

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I thought I had responded to that!!! Please delete one of them. I don’t care which one…
This is one way you can tell I am a little flighty… I can never quite remember if I hit send, or deleted something… it is a little embarrassing.

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That’s great. It took me a couple of years to say Yes to medication. She had been diagnosed since 2 and I had her with a behavioral coach who came to our home, and occupational therapy. She’s been on the medication for a year and she’s now seven turning eight in September. I tried the other methods and when I saw it wasn’t working I asked what she thought and she said she would like to try it. So we saw a psychiatrist and he explained everything to me good and bad and he told her in a way she could understand. Thankfully, everything is working out great!

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Sometimes, people seem to forget that the foundation of science is empirical evidence. Although clinical medicine is not, strictly speaking, a natural science, it is nevertheless an evidence-based applied discipline. If something works, then it is a good therapy, even if we do not know exactly why and how it works. So, if your child is now doing well, then the therapy prescribed by the psychiatrist on the basis of the available scientific knowledge and his/her professional experience is a good choice. People should not let their personal convictions, no matter how apparently logical and well substantiated, come before empirical evidence regarding what works and what doesn’t.

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Science is basically about asking questions. To answer those questions, lots of observation and evidence are needed. This post has been here for about a year so I am sure that Eliza has forgotten what she wrote here but I plugged this in my front page because something happened recently to remind me why this post was necessary in the first place. Thank you for making this wonderful comment. I love your reasoning. xo

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