The realization hit Natalie like a ton of bricks. Her mother, Joann, had literally died of embarrassment! Joann had noticed blood in her stool almost a year before she was diagnosed with colon cancer. At first she told herself it must have been those beets she ate. Then she thought it was most likely her hemorrhoids, although she had not had a flair-up of hemorrhoids since Natalie's birth 52 years earlier.
The truth was that Joann was embarrassed to talk with her doctor about private topics such as her bowel habits. She didn't raise the concern with her doctor until she had bloating, cramping and abdominal pain. This led to the diagnosis of colon cancer that ultimately took her life. Natalie's brother-in-law, who was a nurse, wondered whether Joann would still be alive if she had told her doctor about the blood in her stool when she first noticed it.
Let's face it; certain topics are embarrassing to talk about with your doctor. I call them the 5 Ps:
Ed was laid off from work and could no longer afford his asthma medications. Instead of talking with his doctor about it, he decided to do without. He wound up in the emergency room with an asthma attack that could have been avoided with regular medication.
Tom had some sexual side effects from his blood pressure medicine. Instead of talking with his doctor and getting a different medicine, he just stopped taking it. The doctors wonder if this might have contributed to his heart attack.
Jerry noticed his loss of appetite and sleeping problems as his caregiver responsibilities for his aging father mounted. He wondered if he might be depressed, but dismissed the thought because real men don't get depressed.
Imagine how each of these stories might have been different if these individuals who suffered in silence could have talked with their doctors. Here are 6 tips that can help you talk with your doctor about embarrassing medical topics:
Remember that your job is to communicate. You don't need to know the fancy words to do that. If a patient said to me, Dad had an operation on the dingle-ball thing at the back of his throat , I would know just what he meant. And, the patient would seem relieved when I said, Oh, you mean the uvula.
The best way to make sure you and your doctor understand each other is to use anatomically correct words. Get a basic anatomy atlas. Use anatomically correct words with your children.