Thursday, January 16, 2014

If I Only Had a Brain

I've never liked going to the doctor. Never. It wasn't just the shots thing; the whole experience leaves me terrified. 

"Why We Make Bad Decisions" by Noreena Hertz simply hammered that fear home. 
A few discoveries: 

1) Doctors are not infallible. 
Physicians do get things wrong, remarkably often. Studies have shown that up to one in five patients are misdiagnosed. In the United States and Canada it is estimated that 50,000 hospital deaths each year could have been prevented if the real cause of illness had been correctly identified.
Family members have experienced doctor error more than once. There was even harassment when they chose to seek a second opinion. 
2) When faced with "experts", most will accept their conclusions without question. 
In a 2009 experiment carried out at Emory University, a group of adults was asked to make a decision while contemplating an expert’s claims, in this case, a financial expert. A functional M.R.I. scanner gauged their brain activity as they did so. The results were extraordinary: when confronted with the expert, it was as if the independent decision-making parts of many subjects’ brains pretty much switched off. They simply ceded their power to decide to the expert. 
While I am frightened of medical practitioners and perhaps even doubt their abilities, I would not argue or ask questions, chicken that I am.

3) Though humans merrily embrace information that is positive, if there are negative possibilities, we casually ignore them. 
This could explain why smokers often persist with smoking despite the overwhelming evidence that it’s bad for them. If their unconscious belief is that they won’t get lung cancer, for every warning from an antismoking campaigner, their brain is giving a lot more weight to that story of the 99-year-old lady who smokes 50 cigarettes a day but is still going strong.
Hertz suffered from a debilitating condition but could not get a firm diagnosis. She traveled from doctor to doctor, even internationally, but they were all stumped, each guessing at a possible causes, many involving extreme measures of treatment without any certainty. 

We have to switch on our brains, Hertz tells us. We cannot passively accept, taking no role in our health, deferring to others who don't necessarily have all the answers.
Funnily enough: 
I chose a surgeon who wasn’t overly confident. I’d learned in my research that the super-confident, doctor-as-god types did not always perform well. One study of radiologists, for example, reveals that those who perform poorly on diagnostic tests are also those most confident in their diagnostic prowess. 
The last time I was forced to go to a doctor, when I had impetigo and desperately needed antibiotics, he hesistantly suggested I have a physical as well. 

"Sure, sure, I'll come back." I didn't. But he left me alone. I consider him my regular doc. I like ones who don't demand.

In the end, one should not blindly place oneself into the hands of a so-called "specialist." One should acknowledge their worries and concerns, since emotions can greatly compromise decisions. One should not focus on the more pleasant predictions from relief; one must be aware of the worst-case scenario as well.

It made me think of how this is applicable in all areas of life, really. There are many people out there who claim to know "best"—and I also have my moments of know-it-all-ness.

A Jew questions. We are allowed and encouraged to question. We do not have to accept every word of every rabbi or speaker as irrefutable fact, especially in this day and age when we have access to the learnings of many sages, long dead and currently living. There are many contradictory rulings out there, and without an established majority, when it comes to the less clear matters, we don't have to implement "This way or the highway." 

I'm not saying one can eat chazzer-treif. That is pretty clear. But for instance, I found out recently that according to the Bach (not the composer, but Rabbi Yoel Sirkis, 1561-1640) kol isha only applies to when men are davening, and if they can see the women. Interesting, no?

Hashem gave us a brain to have bechira. Use it. 


The Beckster said...

Are you in my head? Lol. I've been going through this exact experience over the past few weeks. The Dr. misdiagnosed me and gave me the wrong medication twice! The symptoms kept on coming back. I researched my condition plenty online. Honestly, not to sound cocky, but I had to bite my tongue when I visited my Dr. the next time. She kept making gross generalizations about my condition and prescribed unnecessary drugs. Well, WebMD can prove her wrong...but I didn't say anything. Instead, I'm wary of her decisions and plan to do research on switching to a more competent doc. Cheers to critical thinking and boo to blind acceptance. Great post.

The Beckster said...

Disclaimer: I am not a blind follower of WebMd either, lol. Like Not at all! Like everything else on planet Earth (and especially planet Internet) it is fallible. I simply believe in doing as much research as one can and looking at a situation through different angles (not merely through the doctor's).

Princess Lea said...

Wow, your doctor had worst possibilities than WebMD? Ha, that has to be the first!

I managed to talk my mother off the ledge with WebMD when her new doctor terrorized her. She found out later that other doctors consider the woman a, I quote, "joke."

Accumulating much research is the way to go, and getting more than one medical opinion!