Establishing a baseline: Why you should visit your doctor when you don't feel sick

In an earlier post I raved about Susannah Cahalan’s memoir, Brain on Fire, which I read for one of my bookshop’s book clubs. What I didn’t say in that post was that Susannah, a New York Times bestselling author, graciously offered to call into our book club in January to talk a little about her experience and field some questions. (Spoiler: it. was. so. cool.)

She said a lot over the phone that really resonated with me, but what seemed most relevant to share were the words of wisdom she gave to one of our attendees, who’d had a strange ailment in her 20s that mimicked some of what Susannah documents in her memoir. I can’t recall Susannah’s exact words, but her point was driven home to everyone gathered around that little phone speaker: establish a baseline.

I’d never quite thought of it this way before, but now it makes so much sense to me. It’s of the utmost importance to set up relationships with caregivers and doctors even when you’re fairly healthy, not to wait until a crisis occurs to schedule a visit. If doctors get a chance to know the “real” you, they will be better able to tell when something’s off. Though it’s helpful to tell healthcare professionals when you don’t feel quite right, and even more helpful to have friends and family reinforce your statements by attesting that, in fact, your current state of health is not like your “regular” self, nothing can replace the doctor-patient relationship. The better a doctor knows you, the faster he/she will be able to tell when you truly are not quite right.

I remember years ago telling my then-neurologist that Zonegran made me feel stupid and that I couldn’t spell well. No matter how much I emphasized the fact that, for my entire life up until taking Zonegran, I was very proud of my smarts, my good memory, and my stellar spelling, he only had my word to go on and didn’t know me well enough to be able to tell what was real and what was my imagination. Of course we’d like to think that doctors would just trust our judgment, but sometimes when we’re under the weather we are in no position to accurately describe how we aren’t feeling like ourselves.

How many of you have established a baseline with a healthcare provider? Do you have any doctors or nurses who can tell right away when something’s off with you? How does that impact the care you receive?

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