Dear Doctor: When you don’t know what to do.

Dear Doctor: When you don’t know what to do.

A doctor is a human being, and therefore is fallible. All humans are. However, you wouldn’t think they are by their attitudes, well some of them at least. Normally, or at least it’s normal in my experience, when a doctor doesn’t know what to do they treat an undiagnosed complicated case like a stain on their career, and quite frankly I’ve had enough. I’m not a stain, or a case file, I’m a human being living with unbearable pain, and a whole host of other symptoms.

Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh, but like with all topics we can say ‘not all x, y, and z’. Unfortunately, more often that not being treated like a case you can’t wait to get rid of is a hard truth many complex patients like myself face.

Now, I am English, and I am well aware that the NHS is free. Compared to some of my American friends, I’m not in oodles of debt trying to find a diagnosis, but I am in oodles of pain. 

Side note: If you’re a fresh faced new doctor and you’ve stumbled on to this blog somehow, welcome! Stay a minute longer, I promise this gets better, and you might learn something? No promises.

Dear Doctor,

If you stumble upon what seems to be a hopeless case, or a case that makes you swallow uncomfortably, or feel out of your depth, here’s what I’d like you to do:

Tell the patient that you don’t know.

That’s it. It’s very simple. All I want when you or a colleague doesn’t know what to do, is to tell the patient that you don’t know.

I have far more respect for a doctor if they tell me I’ve puzzled them, that it’s something they’ve not seen before, and aren’t sure how to treat. Like many, I’d rather honesty than a letter in three weeks time that subscribes me to a NHS life of attempted sneaky mental health assessments, and medications with indecipherable names. What you write in our files matters, more than you think, or if you’re a junior doctor, realise.

A quick story for you, I never saw a doctor with my pretty severe depression when I was younger, because even at that age I knew without a doubt that it would go in my medical file, and that would be that. My pain would be labelled psychosomatic, and I’d be treated as such for life. I know this because it’s how others have been treated, and it’s how I was treated when I admitted I was a little ‘down’ last year over all the pain I was experiencing.

I will also trust you more if you treat me as a human being, and not like a medical guinea pig. I will be frank with you, and if you acknowledge that I have a working understanding of the human body, and my body especially, things will progress smoother. I’ll even save you some time explaining routine medical procedures, because when you’ve had over 50 vials of blood taken in a few short months, and multiple random tests, you begin to understand the lingo.

If you earn my trust, my anxiety of hospitals won’t magically disappear, but knowing I’m visiting someone who will take me serious will ease my worries. If doctors in the past had treated me with respect, I wouldn’t have the gut rumbling fear I have of being ignored in my own medical care. My depression wouldn’t have hit with such a ferocity, I questioned my own life because no one would listen.

Trust my judgement, and treat me as you would treat a human being, just one that’s a bit of a puzzle they’re also stuck trying to figure out, that’s all I ask. Well, not all I ask, a diagnosis would be nice, but I’ll settle for a ‘I don’t know’, and your very best effort.


A patient with a complex medical history, and undiagnosed symptoms pointing to a rare disorder.

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