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Mechanics & medicine

A few days ago, I found a receipt showing it had been three years since a momentous change in my life health.

Oooooh, those are exciting words, right? They don’t seem very exciting in retrospect. They’re matter of fact. All that changed was my finding a book. One little book.

I’d spent six months trying to find a doctor who could help me understand what was suddenly wrong with me, and how to fix it. My search was fruitless. And then, then I found a book talking about how changing my diet could change everything. I was only eating eight foods at that point, so that the book’s direction to remove one of those–rice–didn’t seem like it could do much, but it changed everything for me.

Grains were a problem. Meat was not. Fat was not. Most vegetables were not.

I didn’t have a diagnosis, but I had (mostly) my health … and didn’t care much

about a diagnosis, as long as I had that.

About a year ago, I realized I was having a problem with certain sets of foods. They didn’t seem at all related, until I googled them and found a commonality.

I forgot about that commonality until a few days ago, when I had terrible reactions to two seemingly unrelated foods and went, “Oh, wait, in all the hubbub, I forgot this from last year!”

I found that there was an underlying problem–one with which I’d been diagnosed, right before I got pregnant with Littler J and lost track of little things like “health problems”–that increased the prevalence of all the other problems I was experiencing. I breathed a sigh of relief for the internet, and for the availability of information that it entails.

My little brother’s doctors couldn’t diagnose his disorder. My mom diagnosed it by poring through books at our local library. My brother’s doctors only then confirmed it.

Thanks to the internet, I can more quickly find answers without having to hope I find a doctor capable of actually diagnosing them.

I meet a lot of folks today who are struggling to find diagnoses for their ailments.

I’m torn about how to say they shouldn’t give up hope on their doctors, but shouldn’t wait for them, either.

(“Why should some research saying 3% more of people in a test sample of 800 responded one one way than another be determinative for your own body, which was not represented in that research?” I want to cry.)

Today, I got a text message from a friend that made me shake my head and think, “Aw, man, you’re still relying on doctors to resolve your problems, aren’t you? Too bad, man, too bad.”

It’s not that I blame doctors. I might have, before I read Victo Dolore‘s thoughts about trying to help heal her patients, but I don’t anymore.

It’s just that I think medicine, like most things practiced by humans, is slow-moving. Doctors who only practice what they read from stuffy established medical journals will be missing heaps of new evidence amassed elsewhere, to the detriment of their patients who care less about “completely authenticated science” than “just feeling a little bit better, for the love of God.”

Just fewer than three years ago, I posted the below about mechanics and medicine. I stand by it today.

I was just reading a book Nick left me on how doctors think, and how their errors in framing problems can be lethal to their patients. As I was reading this, I got a call from a mechanic. He’s the fourth mechanic to look at my car in a couple of months about a terrible smell on the lefthand side of my car, and one that’s much, much worse the longer the car’s been undriven.

My dialogue with the last mechanic went like this:

HIM: There’s no leaking fluids.

ME: That’s great. What else could cause a terrible burning smell?

HIM: Nothing I can think of. Your car looks great. I don’t smell anything.

ME: Pretend you did. What might be its source?

HIM: Look, your car looks great. My tests show it.

ME: I’ll be sure to take heart in that if my car fails while I’m driving 65 with my son in tow.

My dialogue with this mechanic went more like this:

HIM: Your breaks look great. In fact, everything looks great. I can’t believe your car has 100,000 miles on it.

ME: AAAARGH. If it’s not my breaks, what is?

HIM: I’m not sure. Let’s talk about this more. You smell it more on the left side, and most when you’re just starting your car after it’s been off a while, huh?

ME: Yeah, that’s about right.

HIM: It could be the cat, or the catalyst. You might want to take it to a smog check station and have them check exhaust output. But wait, let me look at the exhaust pipe while we’re talking.

ME: Cool, thanks.

HIM: Check it out. There’s plastic remnants in here. Sometimes, not too often, a bag will be floating down the freeway and land in an exhaust pipe. It’s probably been burning off for a couple of months and now it’s almost gone. Maybe another few days or a week, and it’s totally gone.

ME: Seriously?

HIM: Yep.

ME: Rad.

The facts of the noxious odor and its source didn’t change. The only thing that changed was the mechanic’s willingness to explore alternatives, and to pursue them. To truly address a concern rather than wave if off based on limited diagnostics. It felt fortuitous, to be reading about optimal problem resolution and then see an example of it. And it made me think it’s all the more important to walk away from doctors like the first mechanic above, and find ones more like the second. The results are worth it.

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  1. April 29, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    I had a sixteen year old tell me today that she had researched her symptoms online and that she had decided she had proctalgia fugax. You know what? She is probably right. Then, I had about five people tell me they had researched their symptoms and they thought they had cancer. They don’t. But your advice is great. Don’t give up on doctors but don’t wait for them, either. 🙂

    • April 29, 2016 at 6:53 pm

      Since my mom was dying of cancer when I was pregnant with Li’l D, I’ve decided–before research–that every ailment must be cancer. I was also fortunate that Li’l D’s pediatrician very compassionately walked me away from that line of thought when Li’l D was very little.

      Now I think, “If it’s not cancer, what else might it be?” and find myself glad for Li’l D’s excellent pediatrician (with whom I once shared one of your posts, on which I’d commented), who cautioned me with a warm smile to think of the million likelier alternatives–in each case–before deciding on that one, because it was the one of which I most afraid. 🙂

      My family will be changing insurance soon, and I’ll be paying a whole lot more to keep her as my sons’ pediatrician. I’m not as concerned who my doctor is, just as long as my boys keep getting to see her.

      ♥ Thanks so much for opening my eyes. And heart.

  2. April 29, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    I’ve just started learning how important diet is myself. When I was younger I never worried or cared or really thought about what I was eating. Now I notice the way my body reacts after eating certain foods. Especially the way unhealthy food slows my body down if not flat out making me sick. I love how information is so accessible now that it IS possible to educate yourself. Then you can work with a doctor by suggesting possibilities that they might now otherwise consider.

  3. Paul
    April 29, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    Ah the optimism of the young. Ha! Here’s the problem Deb – you/re smart in a special way. It is apparent to me having read your blogs for a few months that you think in what I call “intuitive leaps”. You see the underlying relationships between factors and can make connections where others would never see them. I’m willing to bet that characteristic is very helpful in your job and makes you very valuable to your employer. If you were a doc it would make you a superb diagnostician,if you were a space shuttle commander it would enable you to apparently pull answers to unexpected problems from what appeared to be thin air. I sometimes relate it to quantum vs Newtonian physics. Most human thinking throughout history has been done in a “Newtonian” way – each occurrence is the product of previous occurrences and for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In theory if all factors were known,it would be possible to look at a pool table with all the balls randomly distributed, and calculate the shot that put them there. There is another equally important type of thinking and that relates well to quantum physics.The basic assumption there is that all future possibilities already exist and we simply have to choose to actualize one. This is the opposite of Newtonian basics which say the previous determines the future. Not so in quantum mechanics. Hence Schrodinger’s cat – the cat in the box is both dead and alive until the box is opened.

    If you think back over some of the decisions that you have made Deb that were most positive, you will likely find that the solutions you came up with were unorthodox and very effective. The reason is the way you think. I should make it clear that,just as our physical universe can only be described accurately using both Newtonian and quantum physics, so too human progress is best made using both types of thinking – each task is best addressed using one or the other type. The vast majority of progress has been made with “Newtonian” thinking. So, for instance, the medical profession has historically thought along straight lines,building each piece of info on the precious information. You can visualize it as fingers of knowledge growing linger and longer (and occasionally joining) and carrying human understanding into the future. That said, there will come times when the right answer does not lie within those fingers of knowledge but rather in unexplored or uncharted areas between or as a combination of fingers. Then ‘intuitive leaps” or quantum thinking is necessary.

    There are some very smart people who only think in straight lines Deb and they contribute a great deal to humanity’s growth. Then there is another type of smart that thinks in leaps rather than lines. So, yes formal training and intelligence doesn’t always produce the answers that a non-linear thinker can produce. It is sad that many professions discourage the non-linear thinkers – like medicine. They say that it is because they first choose to do no harm and any procedure or process that does not have precedents for the conclusions is dangerous.

    All that to say that your are rare in the way you think and what you do cannot be taught to those who do not think that way. 😀

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