Dear Doctor (that includes any other health professional who is caring for me!)
This is a rather confusing time in my life; in fact, it's almost like being a teenager all over again (minus the wonderfully un-saggy skin and quick metabolism). My hormones are shifting. My body is changing. I'm feeling new sensations -- both mentally and physically -- and everything seems to be fluctuating. For me, the earth -- my earth -- is shifting... and I feel my inner magnetic field striving for equilibrium.
I'd like to take this opportunity to reach out to you with this important letter. I think putting it all down on paper can help both of us. I do know it helps me gather my thoughts and document everything, because: 1. I can no longer depend on my memory to retain all the facts 2. I need to be efficient in our visits, since the average doctor's visit these days somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes -- way too short to have a decent conversation.
1. Please don't dismiss me as just another "hysterical" midlife woman. I am an individual who is navigating through some foreign waters.
2. Please don't do as many mothers of my generation did, and hand me a manual like "How babies are Made" -- or the grown-up version of that, "What to Expect When You're Expecting Menopause." Each experience is unique; in talking to all my friends around the same age, I've noticed there is definitely no "one-size-fits-all" solution to problems like hot flashes, weight gain, insomnia, memory loss, mood swings, adult acne, food cravings, loss of sex drive, irregular periods, breakthrough bleeding, vaginal dryness, headaches... what was I saying?
3. Likewise please don't automatically offer me a "fix" like hormones to treat my various symptoms. At the very least, I'd need to learn about the proper timing, dose and benefits of HRT before I can make an informed decision. And I'd love to discuss alternative, more natural treatments for menopausal symptoms as well.
4. If I'm newly single and have started dating, please realize that I might still be interested in sex. It's important we have an honest discussion about the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, which are increasing among ages 45-64 in the last decade. I may no longer be able to get pregnant, but I do need to know how to protect myself.
5. On the other hand, the drop in my estrogen levels might cause my sex drive to droop. But rather than write that off to menopause, let's explore other possible causes, like certain prescription medications, a thyroid problem or other medical conditions.
6. Please don't keep me waiting more than 15 minutes. My time, like yours, is valuable. I realize you work very hard and emergencies do come up. But if you're running late, there's nothing better than a call in advance from your receptionist; or at the very least, being told how long I might have to wait when I first arrive. (It might be nice to be offered an alternate appointment -- or even a discount on my bill or a gift card as a token for waiting longer than 30 minutes.)
7. Please don't call me in for my appointment, only to put me in a tiny room behind a closed door with nothing to do or read -- and then have to wait another 20 minutes. It's no wonder my blood pressure reading always reads high.
8. Speaking of blood pressure, please don't automatically prescribe medication if it is high before we discuss alternatives. The same goes for other conditions that become more common in midlife like high cholesterol and osteoporosis. I might be willing to consider lifestyle changes before popping a pill.
9. Please don't feel I am being "difficult" or "challenging" if I ask questions. I've done my homework, and although I didn't go to medical school like you did, I understand my own body pretty well.
10. Please be patient with me and give me time to talk and take notes if necessary. I will not remember everything you are telling me. That's a guarantee.
11. Please give me a copy of all my test results. I'll never remember all the numbers, and I like to keep a record of my visits.
Now that I'm in midlife, I don't feel a so-called "crisis," but instead a wonderful freedom to be able to know -- and speak -- my mind. But still, I look to you for information and guidance. Thank you in advance for taking the time to read my words and the words of thousands of others, no doubt.
What's on your checklist?
Gathering your health information and getting organized before your appointment are the key steps to ensuring a productive meeting with your doctor. This is especially important if you're seeing multiple doctors or are meeting with a new physician for the first time.
Make sure the doctor you're seeing has copies of your latest X-ray, MRI or any other test or lab results, including reports from other doctors that you've seen. In most cases, you'll need to do the legwork yourself, which may only require a phone call to your previous doctor's administrative staff, asking for it to be sent, or you may need to go pick it up and bring it to the new office yourself.
Make a list of all the medications you're taking (prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements) along with the dosages, and take it with you to your appointment. Or, just gather up all your pill bottles in a bag and bring them with you.
Your doctor also needs to know about any previous hospitalizations, as well as any current or past medical problems, even if they are not the reason you are going to the doctor this time. Genetics matter too, so having your family's health history can be helpful. The U.S. Surgeon General offers a free web-based tool called "My Family Health Portrait" that can help you put one together.
Make a written list of the top three or four issues you want to discuss with your doctor. Since most appointments last between 10 and 15 minutes, this can help you stay on track and ensure you address your most pressing concerns first. If you're in for a diagnostic visit, you should prepare a detailed description of your symptoms.
The best advice when you meet with your doctor is to speak up. Don't wait to be asked. Be direct, honest and as specific as possible when recounting your symptoms or expressing your concerns. Many patients are reluctant or embarrassed to talk about their symptoms, which makes the doctor's job a lot harder to do. It's also a good idea to bring along a family member or friend to your appointment. They can help you ask questions, listen to what the doctor is telling you and give you support.
Follow Sheryl Kraft on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@sherylkraft