Questions I have no answers to

I saw a doctor last week. An uneventful visit, it went the way such visits go and perhaps this is why it’s worth describing, but one thing struck me this time. It’s the number of times I wanted to say ‘I don’t know’.

How much alcohol do you drink on average weekly?

Well, I don’t know. It depends. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when I told the doctor that it depended and that it varied from week to week, the medic responded “Oh, we’re only interested in the average consumption.’. I must admit that I wanted to ask who is ‘we’, but then I just couldn’t be bothered. I just gave an answer I knew the doctor would be able to patronise me with his satisfaction. I just couldn’t face a conversation about how much alcohol I drink.

So what do you think about [medication]?

I think nothing. Zilch. Nada. Not a thought. What on earth would I think? How on earth would I know? You’re the doctor and with no data, at least like decision aids, for example, I cannot possibly make a decision, let alone an informed one. The question like the one above serves not much more than relieving your responsibility for your actions. I keep being suspicious of shared decision making, still, do it properly, if you must! Don’t just throw a question there is no answer to.

Do you think the condition has changed?

I really don’t bloody know!! And this question only irritated me. I’ve seen doctors about it for a year now. We still haven’t got a clear idea what it is, but I am asked how it’s changed! What exactly are you asking me? The thing that you still don’t want to identify, but let’s just consider whether it’s changed?! For pity’s sake, where is the point when you see the idiocy of such questions?

And so, there you are. My appointment with my doctor could be summarised with ‘I don’t know’. But, of course, I didn’t just say ‘I don’t know’. I am becoming an experienced, savvy patient and I know I cannot simply thwart my doctor’s question. I keep thinking that I probably should make him feel good providing answers to questions to which there are no answers. And so, I talk asking questions, considering options, which he eventually stops with a whiff of irritation. It’s Galasiński again, the one who talks too much and complicates things instead of answering in short clear sentences which, ideally, can be used in writing clinical notes. Oh, yes, it hasn’t escaped me – yes, you don’t look at me as you look at your computer screen.

But what was really funny was you telling me that I should go back to exercising and explaining to me the way motivation grows as you exercise. No, you’re not interested in the slightest that I have run an estimated (roughly, by me) 30 thousand kilometres. You just ramble on about what it is to exercise. Yes, I try to tell you that I know, you pay no attention. I could actually teach what it means to be patronising on the basis of your speech. But I do hope it made you feel better.

But the uneventful medical appointment became quite interesting in the last minute or two. I had to remind you that I had been referred for cancer screening, you somehow didn’t reach that part of my digitised notes. Yes, you felt mildly embarrassed as you acknowledged it, hastily reading the referral. You had nothing to say. And there was so much to say, wasn’t there?

And then right at the end I asked about my chronic illness appointment. Well, it turned out that the special, super-duper appointment I had been invited to attend twice can actually be replaced by this routine 10-minute appointment I made after doing the bloods. The doctor said he would amend the system and, I guess, I was supposed to breath a sigh of relief. The system will be amended, I have attended the special chronic illness appointment. Is there no end to joy?!

And so, let me sum up, a patient doesn’t even have to turn into a linguist; I do warn you, however, what I am about to write is (extremely) controversial. How about asking me questions I can realistically have answers to? I know it’s difficult, I know you have (computer) forms to fill out, I appreciate it, but that’s your problem, not mine.

Oh, finally, doing PHQ-9 with you was so much fun. I must admit, however, that after saying about 5 times that I actually write about such questionnaires and I really am not the right patient to apply them to, you actually listened to me. And you asked me the questions with a smile. Ha ha ha.

PS. It turned out that Lynne Murphy had written about the question “How are you feeling in yourself?“. Yes, I have been asked that question many times and somehow, I took it in my stride (irritatingly). And yet, Lynne is absolutely right pointing in particular to the adverbial  ‘in yourself’. Just off the top of my head, I think the phrase introduces something more profound and important to the question about how one feels. It raises the stakes, I think. At the moment, I don’t know what, but I hope I will write about it some point.


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