Notes From a College Student: Fessing up to Your Doctor

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by By Amie Dahnke /

KING5.com

Posted on October 22, 2009 at 4:28 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:52 PM

About the Author

Track star Amie Dahnke is an English major at the University of Portland. She also holds the fastest Crystal Springs course time in UP history, and she became the first freshman since 1990 and the first Portland runner since 2000 to win the women's WCC individual championship. Her fastest 5k is 16:51; her fastest mile is 4:51.

Call me crazy, but I expect doctors and hospitals and everyone else who takes care of my body to follow standards of care and best practices and to be completely open and honest about it. I expect them to give me the bad news when there's bad news and I expect to hear the good news whenever possible. I expect doctors to take the right course of action that best fits me and my case, not them. I guess that's what I think of when I hear the word "transparency."

However, transparency is a two-way street. It means patients are accountable too. I always expect the doctor to be the meanie-head who stares at a chart and nods like I have six arms, a cycloptic eye and psychedelic, color-changing skin. But sometimes patients can be the bad guys, too.

Here's an example. For eight months my ever-persevering acupuncturist worked to try to cure my ailing stomach and digestive problems. She offered me seven types of herbal medicines to nourish my liver and heart, the two major organs responsible for digestion in Eastern medicine. Passing up curing my ailing hip, she stuck needles into my belly button, back, ears and feet to break up the road blocks that prevented the healthy flow of chi my body desperately needed. She burned incense on my toes and fingers and taught me how to do it as well.

She had me go on a gluten-free, chocolate-free, dairy-free diet. She begged me, using her best rhetorical skills, to go on a caffeine-free diet (and she almost succeeded). She consulted with her coworkers and her mentor, who told her that sometimes people are subconsciously unable or unwilling to allow themselves to be healed through alternative medicine.

I knew how hard she was working and I knew how frustrated she was getting, constantly coming up with new approaches to take with me. I also knew I wasn't being honest with her. Rather than tell her that I was still suffering from bulimia, I let her toil away for months trying to fix my digestive problems --undoubtedly a result of my bulimic behaviors.

I respect my acupuncturist more than any other doctor I have ever worked with, and I knew that telling her the truth was going to put a huge damper on our relationship. But by omitting that I was still struggling with an eating disorder, I was lying to her which prevented either of us to make any real progress in my recovery. When I did tell her, she sighed in relief. She didn't berate me or get upset with me. She listened with open ears, an open mind and open heart as I poured out the truth of the past four months of our work together. When I was all done, she did something that shocked me:

She thanked me.

I realized that telling her the truth was a much better route to health than lying to myself--and to her. Being transparent about myself not only took a huge emotional burden off of my shoulders, it assuaged my acupuncturist's stress that she wasn't as good as she thought she was.

Now when I think of transparency, I think of a two-way avenue of honesty. Transparency isn't purely about doctors being honest to their patients, it's also about patients being honest to their doctors. Telling the truth can be intimidating, but it's the best thing you can do to establish that relationship of trust with your doctor--and everyone else, for that matter.

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