I am talking about your body. Who knows it better? You or a psychiatrist who has never seen you? You or your GP? You or your cardiologist? You or your internist? I’ll tell you who knows my body better. I do. And I am offended by Edward Shorter’s claim that most illnesses are psychosomatic.
Most of the medical symptoms your typical American suffers from are psychosomatic–in other words, they can’t be traced to any organic cause but are rather the result of some mind-body interaction. The symptoms may be real, but the cause is psychological, stemming from depression, anxiety, or stress. Today, this manifests itself in the headaches, backaches, fatigue, diarrhea, dizziness, and joint pains that concern so many patients.
Psychosomatic is often used by the medical world to say that it is imaginary. Okay, you’re tired, but it’s your own fault. You thought about being tired and POOF! you are.
This is an incredibly self-centered diagnosis on the part of the doctors. They don’t know what’s wrong, so you must be creating the problem in your head.
Imagine if the police took that approach. “We don’t know who the robber was, so you must have caused the robbery yourself.” “There was no murderer visibly present, so the dead person must have been a suicide.” Okay, I know there are some symptoms of a murder, but without knowing who the murderer is, then we can’t say it was murder. If the police did that, there would be an outcry. Yet doctors not only do it, they publish it, and are heralded as truth-bringers.
What right do doctors have to say such things? Well, they are educated. So am I. But I don’t know everything and I know I don’t know everything. But I’m not a jerk about it.
What would it hurt a doctor to say, “I don’t know what the symptoms you are presenting with mean. To date, we have no explanation for your problem.” Instead of, “You need to see a psychologist.”
You say, oh, a doctor wouldn’t say that? Sorry. Been there, got the recommendation.
I’ll start with that one, a life-threatening illness the doctors (5 of them in practice together) did not recognize.
I went to the practice because I hurt. Ever since my youngest had been born by a very traumatic C-section, I had not enjoyed sex. It hurt. And I kept thinking it must be a yeast infection, but it wasn’t. And my “stomach” hurt. But I wasn’t sick. So, after having seen all five doctors, since they shared patients and I came in so often, I was told, “There is nothing wrong with you except fear. Stop being afraid you will get pregnant. Your tubes are tied. It’s not going to happen. If you need help, go see a psychologist.”
Six months after this last “friendly” recommendation, I was admitted to the ER because I was in so much pain that I couldn’t stand up. And I was freezing. And my hematicrit, when they checked it, was through the floor. When they asked me to describe the pain level, I said a 6. A 6 on 10. I am not a hypochondriac. They thought gallstones, but that wasn’t it. They checked and my ovary had ruptured. I had internal bleeding. They did emergency surgery.
When I was awake, the doctor visited and said, “If your ovary hadn’t ruptured, you would have had a major problem. There was scar tissue from your C-section and all your organs had adhered together. In addition to that, some of the scar tissue had wrapped around your large intestine and was cutting it off. In two months, or so, you would have been dead.”
Too bad it was all psychosomatic, huh?
And before that…
When I was 16 I went to the doctor because it hurt to breathe. He listened to my lungs and said that I was fine. There was nothing wrong with me. My mother, God bless her, was my advocate and argued with him. “She wouldn’t say she couldn’t breathe if she could.” “There’s nothing there,” he told her. “Well, then get her an Xray. I’ll pay for it and we’ll all know.” So my doctor, simply to prove to my worried and annoying mother that he was right, walked us across to the Xray lab. And both my lungs were filled with fluid. Three-quarters of the way up.
The doctor apologized profusely to my mother, not to me for thinking I was making it up, but still, at least he apologized to my mother. And I got treatment for my pneumonia.
Before that, from the time I was in seventh grade, I would get severe headaches. The muscles in my face would spasm. Sometimes all the way around my head and down into my back. When I wore my retainer, instead of sleeping, I would sit in a chair all night and cry because it hurt so badly. What was wrong? Nothing.
No, wait. That doctor didn’t say “nothing.” He said, “I am sure something is wrong, but I do not know what it is. I am so sorry.” That’s what I want to hear from a doctor when he doesn’t know what is wrong with me.
And two years later, when the first work on TMJ came out, he saw it, because he was looking for it, and we knew what was wrong, even if we didn’t know how to treat it. And I spent two years getting all the experimental treatments, which didn’t work, and three years trying to get the treatment that eventually fixed my problem.
By this time, I was in Texas, going to college. (I went early.) And I found a doctor who could do the surgery, but he wouldn’t. “You’re only 17. Wait and do the surgery after you’re married.”
Since there was a chance my face would get messed up, because they had to cut near nerves, the doctor didn’t want me to do it. Get married first, have someone who is committed to me, and then do the surgery.
I wasn’t up for that. When I was 19 I found a doctor who would do the surgery. It was far more extensive than he had expected. They had to patch holes, cut ligaments and muscles and sew them back together, pick out bone fragments, and shave bone spurs. And I overreacted to the anaesthesia. So I couldn’t have any pain killers when I came out of the surgery.
My mom was very upset when she told me that. I told her not to worry. That it had hurt worse for the years before the surgery than it did now. She cried.
The only time it hurt worse, was when I went to sleep and hit myself in the jaw when I moved. That woke me up.
BTW, the doctor who did my TMJ surgery doesn’t do it anymore. “It doesn’t help people.” Well, it helped me. I’m glad he was doing it then at least.
Oh, and then there’s the cardiologist who said I was depressed and needed meds. Really I had sleep apnea and needed to sleep.
As you know, if you’ve read previous posts, I am being treated for thyroid problems, for hormone imbalance. But I’ve tried to be treated for those before and the doctors all said no, I didn’t need it. But I’ve improved on the treatment. I no longer have to sleep 14 to 16 hours a day. I work and clean house and teach my kids and still have enough energy to read and write on the blogs.
So, no, I don’t agree with Edward Shorter that most symptoms are psychosomatic. I think the real problem is that the doctors don’t know everything. But they think they do.
Note: I found the article via Shrinkette