The Tragic Optimist


Whew, you have a college reunion weekend (Chris’s 10 year), a sinus infection, and a bunch of house guests, and all of a sudden it’s 2 weeks since your last post.  So much to catch up on — not that all that much has happened, though I kind of feel like I should have something worth posting after such a long pause, but there’s also so many blogs to keep up with, too.  If you all could just stop having interesting things to say when I’m busy, that’d be great.

One thing that happened last month was Zoe and I both being on antibiotics.  Zoe for her perforated eardrum and I for a sinus infection.  Now in both cases, I had done research, and in both cases, it seems like a lot of doctors are recommending not using antibiotics, in part because they don’t seem to significantly shorten the time of the infections, and of course, in order to keep down the incidence of antibiotic-resistant bugs.  So I went to the doctors expecting to not get antibiotics, and specifically deciding not to ask for them.  But in both cases, the doctors prescribed them.  In the case of my sinus infection, I did ask the doctor if antibiotics would really help, but she just gave me a strange look, and said yes, it was bacterial.  I was in enough pain (I’ve never had a sinus infection before, damn! I was literally calling home crying to my mommy) that I didn’t have the energy or desire to argue.

It all got me thinking about confronting doctors if you’ve done research and disagree with their diagnosis or treatment.  Between infertility, pregnancy, and Zoe’s vision problems, I’ve done a lot of searching and reading the medical literature, but as of yet, haven’t really come across any cases where I seriously questioned what my doctors were telling me.  And honestly, I’m not sure what I would do in that situation.  Part of it is just my general dislike of confrontation, but part of it, I think, is from library school.  We learned to do the literature searches for any medical topic, for sure, but it was also hammered home that we were not to ever offer any medical advice or interpretation of what we found (the same is true for legal advice).  I think that’s absolutely appropriate for someone serving the role of librarian, but it’s bled over into my research as a patient, too.

I know I’m not alone in doing my own research on medical issues, and I’m wondering if any of you have run into situations where your research differs from what your doctor tells you.  Did you bring it up?  How did that go?  And if there are any medical-types, how have you handled patients that disagreed with your opinions based on their research?  Do you want your patients to bring research they’ve done to you, or does that overstepping boundaries?


  1. What Ann doesn’t mention is that she stopped getting worse and started getting better right after she started taking the antibiotics. So the doctor was probably right to give them to her for the sinus infection.

  2. Yep, I’m not really interested in the particulars of what I should or shouldn’t have done at these recent doctor’s appointments, just curious about other’s experiences with bringing the results of their own research to their doctors.

  3. I experienced pregnancy and birth in Japan and I had a little bit of disagreement with my doctor about ultrasounds. I wasn’t sure if repeated ultrasounds were totally safe so I brought that up. In Japan they use a vaginal ultrasound to determine if you are pregnant (like only 5 weeks along) and then every single time you go in for prenatal care they whip out the ultrasound. I had to just give in to him because that was the only way he knew how to care for me. It doesn’t seem to have caused any harm, but my concerns were totally dismissed and that felt crappy. I think a doctor should be able to determine the size and position of the baby without relying on ultrasound.

  4. I seem to have to bring everything up with my doctor before we talk about it! she agrees with the research I found, but does not like bringing it up!

  5. I often have trouble with the issue that I have very little resistance to antibiotics and other drugs, and as a result I have weird/bad reactions to them (often for me, taking antibiotics feels worse than the infection). Doctors have never listened to me, and thus I tend to try alternative medicines before actually going to a medical doctor.

    Also, I had an allergist try and pre-emptively prescribe me Advair (prior to allergy testing I might add). Advair’s own documentation says it should be used as a last resort if symptoms are not controlled, as there had been HUGE issues with the fact that there is a significantly higher likelihood of death from an asthma attack if you are taking Advair. Since I had a total of 2 asthma attacks EVER, I chose not to take the medication. I would like to add, that I controlled the symptoms through changing lifestyle rather than drugs. I still have my inhaler, but have used it a total of only 2 more times since January.

  6. The doctors I work with are just self-centered enough that if you suggest something, they won’t do it just because it wasn’t their idea first.

    So when I go to the doctor as a patient, I try to keep this in mind if my doc says something I disagree with or don’t really understand. You hear about so many mistakes occuring in the medical community, you HAVE to be your own advocate and keep yourself educated. If you have a good doctor, they will listen to your concerns and educate you on why they practice the way they do. I really think it all depends on your presentation.

    “Well, you know, when I Googled it, the internet said . . . “

  7. I used to think that doctors always knew what they were doing until I had Charlotte. For months now, she and I have been showing what I thought were symptoms of thrush, but not everyone we’ve seen has agreed about this (or the best way to treat it). Our pediatrician is only familiar with one type of treatment that has been shown to be ineffective in 50% of all cases of thrush, which I found out through many hours of research. I showed her the studies, but she didn’t seem interested in learning about other treatments that have been shown to be more effective. Ugh.

    This has been incredibly frustrating, as it’s been going on for months, I’m uncomfortable, and I’ve tried a slew of costly, time-consuming treatments that haven’t worked. I saw my midwife today, and she threw up her hands and told me she didn’t know what was going on and didn’t know who she could refer me to. She suggested that I could try contacting researchers at UC Davis, home of the Human Lactation Center. I have, so now I have to wait and see if they respond.

    I know that there are a lot of body mysteries, but I never thought that it would come to this. I thought that at UCSF, which is supposed to be one of the best research hospitals in the country, someone would know what’s going on here. But apparently they don’t.

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