The Importance Of A Healthy Doctor-Patient Relationship

The Importance Of A Healthy Doctor-Patient Relationship

How my surgeon shattered the image of hardhearted physicians.

Many of us go through life choosing to be blissfully oblivious about our health and safety. We ignore the “Apple a day keeps the doctor away,” advice; even when something goes wrong and we force ourselves to go to the doctor, we tend to let the professionals do all the talking. As passive patients, we allow the doctor to have full control over the conversation, allow him or her to make the recommendations and ask the questions. But on an even more worrisome note, we deny that anything could ever go wrong and that we would ever need to put ourselves in the uncomfortable position of communicating with our doctor in the first place.

I had always been a seemingly healthy – mentally, physically, socially – child. I rarely got sick, I hardly ever needed to visit the doctor; which was fortunate considering my mother’s bouts with seizures and my father’s persistent heart problems. Like many young children, I assumed nothing as bad as what happened to them, could ever happen to me. But, when I hit puberty at an early age, my disillusion was brought to an abrupt halt. I was in sixth grade when my mother began noticing that my posture was getting worse and worse. My parents would yell at me to sit up straight, and when I responded, ‘I am,’ their faces would suddenly reek of concern. Overly cautious, my mother brought me to the pediatrician to do a scoliosis test. She knew the signs for she had a mild case of it herself when she was in her pre-teens. My encounter with the pediatrician was less than helpful. From what little I remember of the visit, when she asked me to bend over, her eyes widened and she gave my mother the name of a highly recommended orthopedic surgeon in our town, sending us on our way.

As a scared, insecure thirteen-year-old girl, the idea of having something wrong with my spine – wrong with me – was petrifying. Appearance is everything to a sixth-grade girl who is desperately trying to find her place in a suddenly mature world. After talks with my mother and researching scoliosis on the internet, I discovered my only options were to wear a brace for a year or more, or surgery – two things I was completely unprepared for. I’d seen more of the inside of hospitals with all my parents’ and grandparents’ health issues than some have seen in a lifetime, the last thing I wanted was to experience it for myself.

Stepping into the orthopedic surgeon’s office for the first time was like stepping into a nightmare from which there was no falling from a high point and jolting myself awake. There were dozens of people in the waiting room, some whose deformities were hidden like mine and others with braces on their legs and walking with canes. As the nurse called out my first name to take me to the x-ray room – mispronouncing it horrendously, might I add – I kept trying to convince myself that this whole endeavor would be a waste of time, that there would be nothing wrong.

After the x-rays, I met my doctor for the first time. I’d been expecting an old man who would walk in, refuse to make eye contact with me in my backless robe, and deliver the sad news without any emotion, like many I had seen take care of my parents in the past. Thankfully, I received the opposite. I received Dr. Jonathon Carmouche, the epitome of young, tall, and handsome. He walked in with a smile on his face, began shaking my hand and then my mother’s, seeming eager and pleased to make my acquaintance. Before even addressing my potential ailment, he began asking me about myself - not just what grade I was in -but my interests, my family, and my friends. He seemed to be taking a genuine interest in me as both a patient and a human being

Eventually, he got to the reason for the visit in the first place. He lit up the x-ray of a back with a spine in the shape of an ‘S,’ and told me and my mother that it looked like I had a significant curvature that would need to be corrected. He looked at us, inquisitive, wondering if we had any questions if I had any questions. I could not ask questions. I could not breathe. Feeling like my world had been shattered, I began to cry. Instead of leaving the room or looking away, my doctor apologized and said he understood how I must have been feeling, then offered me a box of tissues. This small act of human kindness proved to me that not all doctors were the same. Not all of them wanted to get in, give a diagnosis, and get out, paying no mind at all to how the patient feels or reacts to the news. Because it was obvious that he truly cared about me, I relaxed. I started to ask questions, interact with him, and the easier it became to talk to my doctor like the human being he is, the easier it was to accept he was not an emotionless robot, and thankfully the easier my condition became to swallow.

Over the next three years, Dr. Carmouche and I developed a very special doctor-patient relationship. As we got to know one another better, I became more and more comfortable speaking with him about concerns about my condition and about my life in general. Instead of being scared of going to appointments, I looked forward to them. My doctor was a busy man with numerous other patients, yet always found extra time to stay and talk with me, without lingering by the door and acting as if he had better places to be. He was always excited to see me and remained ever optimistic about the progress I was making.

It was inevitable that the brace I wore for a year – the brace that required baggy clothes and sweaty night sleeps – would not fix the sixty-degree curve entirely; I would still need surgery. As terrifying as that concept was, the support from my family as well as my doctor enabled me to go into surgery with the confidence that everything would work out. After my nine and a half hour surgery, I emerged a few inches taller, with a straighter spine. He visited me daily during my week in the hospital, checking each time to make sure I wasn’t in too much pain and to encourage me to start walking the day after my surgery. Before I was discharged, I had to do one more x-ray; this time with two titanium rods lining my spine. As my doctor showed my family and I the new and improved x-rays, he went on about how great the surgery went and how I would have no limitations or problems in the future. But if I did, he assured me that he would always be there. He explained that I was to have follow-up appointments, each one fewer and further between. Before leaving, but not before my parents thanked him immensely for everything he’d done, he gave me a hug goodbye.

The last time I saw Dr. Carmouche, it was a very teary goodbye; I was a junior in high school for my last follow-up appointment. Over the years, I was one of his “favorite patients.” He had watched me grow up from a scared little girl in middle school to a confident young woman. Before, I was a child, only a two-year veteran of middle school, meek, self-doubting, and entirely unaware of all that I would accomplish in my high school years to come. I have him to thank for the medical and emotional support it took for me to be the person I am today. It is also because of my experience with Dr. Carmouche, that I chose to focus on the health aspect of communication for my bachelor’s degree.

The encompassment of physical, psychological, and social impacts of an illness or ailment of some kind is widely overlooked by many doctors in the healthcare industry today. As a society, we have come to expect little interaction from our doctors. We refuse to ask questions; we listen to medical jargon we cannot remotely hope to understand, all because we are given the impression by our doctors that anything other than our physical ailment is irrelevant. What many physicians fail to understand is that patients’ emotions are just as significant to a condition as the physical aspects. A positive ‘bedside manner’ is all but obsolete. I was lucky enough to find a doctor who made my priorities – having a straight spine and confidence in myself – his own. My triumphs became his, and this is a rarity among many in the healthcare field nowadays. Unfortunately, there is little we as patients can do to effect the way our physician interacts with us. However, we patients can have just as much power as the doctors. This power stems from simple facets of one-on-one communication. We must ask questions, not be told what is important for us to know about our bodies. We must be assertive and voice our concerns. And we must take an active role in our healthcare until it is the majority of doctors demonstrating the same type of care as Dr. Carmouche did for me; until the majority of doctors are just as invested in patient satisfaction as we are in their ability to heal.

Cover Image Credit: Sacramento Magazine

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I Weigh Over 200 Lbs And You Can Catch Me In A Bikini This Summer

There is no magic number that determines who can wear a bikini and who cannot.

It is about February every year when I realize that bikini season is approaching. I know a lot of people who feel this way, too. In pursuit of the perfect "summer body," more meals are prepped and more time is spent in the gym. Obviously, making healthier choices is a good thing! But here is a reminder that you do not have to have a flat stomach and abs to rock a bikini.

Since my first semester of college, I've weighed over 200 pounds. Sometimes way more, sometimes only a few pounds more, but I have not seen a weight starting with the number "1" since the beginning of my freshman year of college.

My weight has fluctuated, my health has fluctuated, and unfortunately, my confidence has fluctuated. But no matter what, I haven't allowed myself to give up wearing the things I want to wear to please the eyes of society. And you shouldn't, either.

I weigh over 200lbs in both of these photos. To me, (and probably to you), one photo looks better than the other one. But what remains the same is, regardless, I still chose to wear the bathing suit that made me feel beautiful, and I'm still smiling in both photos. Nobody has the right to tell you what you can and can't wear because of the way you look.

There is no magic number that equates to health. In the second photo (and the cover photo), I still weigh over 200 lbs. But I hit the gym daily, ate all around healthier and noticed differences not only on the scale but in my mood, my heart health, my skin and so many other areas. You are not unhealthy because you weigh over 200 lbs and you are not healthy because you weigh 125. And, you are not confined to certain clothing items because of it, either.

This summer, after gaining quite a bit of weight back during the second semester of my senior year, I look somewhere between those two photos. I am disappointed in myself, but ultimately still love my body and I'm proud of the motivation I have to get to where I want to be while having the confidence to still love myself where I am.

And if you think just because I look a little chubby that I won't be rocking a bikini this summer, you're out of your mind.

If YOU feel confident, and if YOU feel beautiful, don't mind what anybody else says. Rock that bikini and feel amazing doing it.

Cover Image Credit: Sara Petty

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Me Vs. Food: My Secret Battle With Eating Disorders

Shedding light on a silenced issue

Eating disorders around this country are spiraling out of control, but not all disorders are able to be seen. Sure, you may be able to tell that someone is underweight or someone is eating too much, but by looking at my own picture, would you be able to tell that I switch between restriction of food and purging? I don’t think so.

Since February of this year, 2018, I have had a silent battle with food. In the beginning, I would restrict myself from eating at all and would limit myself to no more than 500 calories per day. That battle persisted until everyone started noticing I wasn’t eating and was losing weight, so that’s when my battle with a different kind of disorder began.

I started eating more so that everyone around me would stop asking me questions and forcing me to eat when I clearly didn’t deserve that. Therefore, I began eating and engaging in purging activities to eliminate that food from my body. I still maintained my weight, but I stopped losing weight like I had been before, and that was my only goal.

No one ever knew about this secret battle of mine. I consistently told others that I just wasn’t feeling well, it was a side effect of a medication, or I’d just completely lie and tell them that I had eaten that day. The reality is that there is a reason why I began this battle with these difficult eating disorders.

At first, I struggled with eating because I believed I didn’t deserve food. I believed that the pains of hunger from not eating for days was what I had deserved for being who I am. I can’t lie and say that this still isn’t a partial reason why I still struggle with this today, but that reason has gone behind another very strong, loud one.

In the middle of April, as I started leaving the past behind me, I met a guy that I thought was going to make my life so much better. This was the truth until I started finding myself becoming an entirely different person because of him. The only real reason I even started seeing him was because I believed that that’s what I needed to keep other things off of my mind; a man.

The reality is that after only a couple of weeks, I started receiving messages from him telling me that I should only ever find myself in public if I looked “good” and that whenever I had time off work I should find myself only with or talking to him. Nothing else. He’s told me directly something that I will never be able to take off of my mind for as long as I live. He said to me:

“Look, I don’t feel like claiming you. Maybe if you just lost more weight, wore different clothes, or changed your body more, you’d be more attractive to me and then I’d claim you. But right now, you’re not good enough.”

When I got this message, it was a sure sign to me that I clearly needed to do something about my body. This is when I started engaging in purging behaviors, though I kept eating to ensure no one would ask me questions. In addition to this, I tried buying and wearing different clothes, engaging in other behaviors and even started acting very out of my normal.

My point in sharing this information that no one knows at this point, is that I know what it’s like to have to hide feelings and emotional abuse because of a fear of questions or judgements from others. More importantly, I understand what it’s like to have to hide entire disorders because of a fear that others will always have something to say about it. My belief now, though, is that even though this is a battle I still deal with daily, others can say all they want.

My reality now is that I still do speak to this guy and I still do struggle with these harmful eating habits. But what I can’t do anymore is try and pretend like it’s not real because of a fear. My hope is that someone reading this knows that there are other people out in the world with these issues, fighting the same battles.

During this battle, my self-worth is determined entirely by your acceptance of me.

Cover Image Credit: Brianna Gavin

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