Advice

Ask Ada: Help, My Doctor’s A Bully

Plus: what to do if you think a friend is faking chronic illness.

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Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at askada@pillpack.com or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.


I’m In An Abusive Relationship With My Doctor!

Dear Ada,

I have rheumatoid arthritis, and have been in treatment for over five years. However, and there’s really no other way to say this — I think my doctor is a bully. He’s condescending and outright rude. He never listens to me, and I just always feel bad when I leave the office, like my energy is sucked from me, and my medical concerns aren’t being addressed because he doesn’t seem to care.

Yet, I feel like I “need” him. He knows my case well, and because I have a few other issues in the background besides RA, I’m afraid to find a new doctor. What would you do?

Everyone deserves a physician who listens to their concerns and responds with patience and kindness. Unfortunately, not everyone gets a doctor like this.

For some, bedside manner might be seen as a nice-to-have quality, but not a priority. If you’re leaving your appointments feeling drained and unheard, it’s time for you to end the relationship with your current doctor and find someone who will go the extra effort to listen to your concerns and make you feel confident that you’re making the right decisions for your health at every appointment.

If you’re leaving your appointments feeling drained and unheard, it’s time for you to end the relationship with your current doctor and find someone who will go the extra effort to listen to your concerns.

Before you start searching, make a list about what characteristics are important for you in your next medical provider. It sounds as if you’d like someone who is empathetic and caring, but does the gender of the doctor or the length of time they’ve been practicing weigh on your decision? What about other factors, such as how long you’re kept waiting for appointments or how quickly your test results get shared with you. There’s a lot that goes into making a successful doctor-patient relationship, and knowing what works best for you will help you narrow down a potentially long list of possible docs.

And remember, while your current doctor may have been instrumental in your diagnosis or treatment, he isn’t the only person who can help you. Your treatment should be managed by someone who has your best interests at heart, so make it a point to ask for referrals from friends and family, or any contacts you might have in a rheumatoid arthritis community in your area. Healthgrades.com, another option, is a site which shares reviews written by current and former patients of potential doctors.

Your current doctor may have been instrumental in your diagnosis or treatment, but he isn’t the only person who can help you.

You mention that your current doctor knows your case well, so you’re anxious about starting fresh. The good news is that you can take your medical records with you when you leave a practice (though they might charge you a fee for copying/printing). Share these with your new doctor and instead of starting a relationship with no knowledge of your medical history, your new doctor will get up-to-date on your major (and minor) diagnoses, as well as what forms of treatment have been tried in the past, and what is currently working. Of course, the new doctor will want to provide a thorough exam and ask you to self-report your history, but this will all help them get to know your medical needs in no time.

You might feel like it takes a lot of courage to leave your current doctor — and in some ways it does. But you deserve better, so dig down and use that moxie to start researching the alternatives in your area until you find the perfect-for-you physician.

I Think My Friend Is Faking Her Disability. Should I Call Her On It?

Dear Ada, 

I’m not sure how to ask this question, but I’m basically wondering, What do I do if I think my friend might be making up or accentuating an invisible illness? I know that sounds like a horrible question, but my friend acts as if she is sometimes in great physical health and then suddenly is so sickly. It feels, to me, like she uses her illness to benefit her. I consider myself a good friend, and to doubt someone who might truly be suffering would really bother me, but my gut just says something isn’t right here. 

It must feel difficult to not know whether you can trust a close friend, especially if you’re already beating yourself up about doubting someone you care about. But bluntly: it’s not your friend’s job to ‘prove’ that she’s really sick to you. If she has an invisible illness, she gets enough of this already. If you’re a good friend, it’s your job to overcome your distrust, and come to a better understanding of what she’s going through.

The best way to do this is ask your friend for more insight on her illness, and to educate you. Remember to come at the conversation with a genuine sense of caring. The problem with an invisible illness is that people who suffer from it are always made to feel like they need to prove themselves, so if you begin the conversation sharing your doubt, your friend is already going to be on the defensive.

Bluntly: it’s not your friend’s job to ‘prove’ that she’s really sick to you.

Instead, start by saying: I’ll admit that I don’t really know much about your condition. It would mean a lot to me if you’d explain how it affects you, and if you’d tell me if there is anything I can do to support you better.” If your friend is comfortable being open with you, it’s okay to ask questions you might have, like why she has more strength on some days than others, but don’t ask these questions because you want to ‘catch’ her up in a lie. Ask because you genuinely want to educate yourself.

The bottom line is friends don’t doubt each other. They support each other, and a friend wrestling with an invisible illness needs your support more than most. So quell your doubts, step up to the plate, and educate yourself. It’s what a good friend would do.


Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email askada@pillpack.com and tell us your problem.

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