Being Good Isn’t Always Good For You or How I Became The Not So Good Patient

Any good student will tell you the surest way to higher marks is to always produce that which your teacher believes/wants rather than what you think or want to explore. If the teacher believes that Shakespeare is the answer to world peace, all good students know that they must incorporate this into their work to show they understand the lesson. And it works too, until the day it doesn’t because you have suddenly encountered a teacher who isn’t interested in what you think s/he wants to hear, but rather is truly interested in what you have to say and think.

And any good patient will tell you the surest way to keep your doctors doing everything they can for you, working to help you get better or into a more manageable state, is to follow their directions and instructions right down to the last little letter. And it will work too, until the day that all of that direction following no longer produces results that were expected. Because then, my dear fellow patient, sure you must have misunderstood something or perhaps not told your doctor everything.

The problem with being a good patient (or a good student for that matter) is that you lose your own perspective on things. As a patient you stop listening so closely to your body, you start to doubt if you are doing things right. As a student you stop thinking for yourself, you cheat yourself out of the risk and reward of putting yourself out there. But you want to be a good patient, or a good student, so you diligently do as you are told and hope to produce the expected results.

I tell you this as a former good patient, and yes as a former good student who could spin what a professor said into my own words but really was still just a take on the professor’s theory. I stopped being a good student when I realized there was something delicious and refreshing in testing out my own ideas and letting them stand where they may. Sure my marks may have suffered a little from time to time, but the lessons learned in the papers written was worth far more than a two percent difference. (Most professors, I learned, really are interested in your thoughts and ideas and are open to things as long as you provide the proper proof or support.)

Ceasing to be the good patient is a little harder because the risks are greater, but the day that a doctor looked me straight in the eye and told me that I was to blame because the treatment he prescribed was the same one he gave to similar patients and they had all reported improvement was the day I stood on my own two, swollen feet and challenged him. I doubted that the patients all got relief; I suspected that they were afraid of making waves and so went along all the while silently wondering what was wrong. Of course that was also the day I hobbled out of his office for the last time on swollen feet because after all he had the medical degree and so he surely knew better.

Being the not good patient is just another way of saying I advocate for myself. I educated myself about lupus, treatments and options and I am active in my medical interactions. If I don’t agree with someone who had a medical degree I don’t bite my tongue. That degree doesn’t mean that the doctor knows my body the way I do. If I think we should be doing something different, I don’t sit silently and hope things will turn around, I share what I’m thinking and what I’ve read. After all a medical degree does not instantly give someone access to all the latest research and results, not if the person has a full-time practice as well.

To be honest, stopping the whole good patient (and good student) routine has been liberating. It’s a way for my voice to be heard, my input considered and to move from being a passive member of the medical equation into a necessary and equal component of the big picture. The key is to be respectful and open, just like any other relationship.

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