Hi. It’s Dr. Louella in a sombre mood today. I keep thinking about this patient I had today in chronic disease clinic; a young guy in his thirties.
No drama here. I started off with my usual verification of what the patient suffers with. I’ve been doing that a while now, since discovering that patients attend our clinics for years with only a vague idea of what they’re being treated for.
I don’t know if it’s a Trinidadian thing with the responses I receive but I’ve asked this question so many times that I’m no longer surprised…
‘What are you suffering with sir/madame?’
Some patients get offended. They start to stammer that I am the doctor and therefore I should know. So I let them know it’s a big file (we use handwritten patient notes) and we would move a lot faster if they tell me rather than me having to go through all these notes.
Furthermore I remind them that they are the patient. It is their health and their responsibility to know what they are afflicted with.
‘So, would you like to tell me, sir/madame, what are you suffering with?’
There are other patients who begin everything with ‘they say’. For example that, ‘They say I have diabetes’. When I try to confirm that they mean that they have been diagnosed with diabetes, they respond consistently, ‘So they say’. So in my estimation, they are in huge denial!
Sometimes I would make a check in the notes only to find that they have had this said to them for five years or more. I let them know that ‘they’ say it only because it is true and it’s very important they learn to accept it and deal with it.
Then there are those patients who try to respond correctly but leave out diagnoses. When I check the notes there may be an additional diagnosis such as ischaemic heart disease or chronic kidney disease that they are clueless about and which they sometimes deny vehemently.
So then I need to backtrack to find out where that came from, if they were diagnosed at hospital or presumed to have the disorder or what. I need to know if a diagnosis is true or not to convey this to the patient sitting in front of me.
Finally there are patients who give additional diagnoses to what are documented. Something may have happened since the last visit or more likely they had been suffering with some disorder and didn’t think it necessary to inform us.
Our patients attend several different doctors, clinics and institutions simultaneously. Very little official information is shared between these groups.
It is often up to the patient to let us know what is going on. To some of them it is a secret. Others forget or don’t think it relevant. Me, I grab up this stuff, because I want to know everything.
I use the diagnosis as a starting point to inform and educate the patient. It’s not that you maybe sometimes could probably have hypertension. You HAVE it and you need to deal with it. It’s not about a bunch of numbers but really debilitating complications that you could get but we are trying to prevent.
Getting back to the case at hand… When I had my usual discussion with this young man about his diagnoses today, I was a bit thrown. He knew he was overweight and had elevated cholesterol but knew nothing about having had diabetes.
But it was staring at me in his notes! He was newly diagnosed as a diabetic on the previous visit. Apparently he had not been told. Oops! That was a problem. And he seemed intelligent enough that he would have remembered.
I proceeded to take the time to double check his blood investigations. Those results pointed to pre-diabetes, which as I explained to him, was in between ‘normal’ and ‘diabetic’. He was becoming diabetic. Steps had to be taken to try to prevent, or at least delay, full blown diabetes.
(The term ‘Impaired Glucose Tolerance’ is an older term that was and is still used for this condition. I much prefer the simpler ‘pre-diabetes’ when dealing with patients as ‘pre-‘ indicates ‘before’.)
While advising the patient about his condition, I needed to reassure him as well. He had been started on the appropriate medication (metformin). I actually increased his meds for now because his glucose level was high.
I advised him strongly about weight loss, that that in itself may reverse his condition and referred him to the dietitian (they make our life so much easier).
I spoke a lot about exercise because I know that if you’re not into it, it could take you a while to get started. I wanted to get him thinking that this thing was doable.
I threw out different ideas of different types of exercise he could attempt and explained how the day-to-day routine he described was physical activity but not intense enough to be classed as exercise. And he had the size to show for it.
In the end he was really grateful for the information. But of course, other patients were waiting.
I really feel passionate about helping younger patients prevent and manage chronic diseases. That’s why I spend extra time with them.
It is often more difficult for them to come to terms with their illnesses than older adults. They want to enjoy their youth and do not want to be saddled with strict diets and medication.
I let them see that I take their health seriously and they should too. But I also try to inspire hope within them because without it they wouldn’t even try.
I will continue to ask patients the question ‘What are you suffering with’ or seek verification from the patient as to his/her diagnoses because it is important. It is only when people properly understand what is going on with them can they make informed decisions and live healthier lives.
I feel better now that I’ve shared that. I’d like to think I am making a difference in this world, one dot at a time. Dr. Louella is out!!!