By Madeleine Simmons | Collaborating columnist
If you’re having trouble talking to your doctor, try these written messages before your next visit.
I have a really hard time when I walk into the doctor’s office, and they ask me to “explain my symptoms”. My mind, for some reason, always likes to stay blank. I am at a loss for words to describe my aches and pains. Therefore, I developed a strategy of noting my symptoms as they flare up; I love using my notes app, but dedicating a journal that you keep close to you will also work. But, despite these notes, I am sometimes still unable to compose them in a way that makes sense. This led me to create prompts to structure what I wanted to say in a coherent way.
I share them in hopes of helping someone like it helped me.
First of all, I recommend that you choose the prompts that interest you. Then spend a few days writing about the prompts you have chosen. After a while, return to these prompts and repeat them. Then compare since your first writing how your answers have changed.
Draw a small outline of your body.
Next, draw a wide circle around the points that are your problem areas. In the circle, use a highlighter or pens of three colors (I suggest yellow, orange and red) to designate in the circle where it hurts the most and where it hurts the least (i.e. i.e., red for the most painful and yellow for the lightest pain). Now that you have finished coloring, number the circles. Describe why on a separate page: Why did you choose this location? Why did you color it like this?
Write a letter to your body.
Try to separate yourself from your body. List the grievances you have against him. Then take a step back and imagine your body as another person experiencing what you are going through. What would you say to them when they experience fear, uncertainty and anxiety? List the things you are grateful for, such as helping you overcome your difficulties.
Create a dictionary for your pain.
Spend a few minutes googling the words that describe the pain. There are plenty of words to choose from (ache, cramping, tingling, burning, throbbing, stabbing, twinges, tingling, etc.), so pick the ones that stand out for you. After creating your list, highlight the ones that are most relevant to you. Then, on a separate page, explain how those words best match how you feel and where you feel them. Be precise.
Write down your current emotional, physical, and mental needs.
Take five minutes to do this. It can just be a list, write in a circle, whatever makes sense to you. After the five minutes are up, look at what you have written. On a separate page, write about the ways these needs are met or not met. Could they be met? Write what it would look like. Is there a focal point to your anxiety or fears? Or is it spread out? Are there individuals or environments that make them worse or better? Are there any accessibility issues involved? Does it stop you from doing things and demotivate you? Do you have a self-care routine in place? If not, what would self-care look like to you? How could you apply it to your life?
Once you have finished writing on the second page, think about the two texts. As you look at them, think about how your mental health and your physical health are connected. This is a critical discussion to have with yourself and your doctor.
Finally, after your initial draft, go back and tighten the stitches. An example of this would be to cross out, “I first had pain in my leg at my son’s friend’s birthday party.” Instead, try the actual date or general time frame and specify the exact pain point. You’re not a doctor, so don’t feel compelled to write or speak in doctor’s lingo. It’s okay to just say “the place 2 inches above my ankle”.
In addition, it is essential to always have an up-to-date list of medications with you when you go to the doctor. Also be sure to note the dosages. Finally, make sure you have a copy of your immunization records (Usually you just have to give your primary immunization records or your pharmacist if they don’t already have them. But now many more require proof of COVID-19 vaccine, so make sure you have your card with you, have a photo or digital download, or a copy.)
Dealing with the medical system can seem overwhelming and intimidating. It’s easy to give up or procrastinate, but you deserve not to suffer. Taking care of yourself is always the first step towards everything else. So don’t delay.
Madeleine Simmons is a graduate student at Cal State San Bernardino. She has a forthcoming chapbook with swallow::tale press about her medical journey with fibromyalgia.