We All Have Something to Teach Our MS Doctors

Now and again, when I go to visit my local general practitioner’s office, I meet with a doctor I’ve never seen before.

This private practice in my town is run by a husband-and-wife team who have three young children. They like to take the occasional holiday together (which no one would begrudge a family), so to keep the doors open for patients, they use the services of a locum tenens — Latin for “placeholder,” which in the medical profession is often shortened to “locum,” and meaning “replacement doc.”

I think of the locum like a chef de tournant, or relief chef, in my former career. This is the roundsman who fills in for the grill cook, the saucier, the entremetier, etc., on any given night to cover a shift off for the person normally working that station.

How I Adapt My Speech to a New Doctor

While I’m more used to seeing one or the other of my regular doctors, I’m perfectly comfortable with the locum … but I have to be more attentive, too.

I make sure that I’m specific in a way that I might not otherwise be. If I’m speaking of a malady, I make sure to use professional medical language. I say “paresthesia” rather than pins and needles. I ask after my systolic pressure rather than whether my blood pressure is normal. And I talk about multiple sclerosis (MS) like it’s my job.

‘I Learned More About MS From This Discussion Than I Did at Medical School’

During one such visit, a semiretired doctor was so taken by the way I spoke about my medical concerns that, after ensuring that he wasn’t intruding, he started asking me questions about my MS and about the disease itself. And then we even got into my opinions on research and medication and my experience with international healthcare providers.

What would normally have been a 20-minute appointment ended up being an hourlong visit.

It wasn’t one-sided, this chat. He also shared his medical experiences with other patients that mirrored (or perhaps paralleled) some of my own.

We talked about long-term side effects of steroids (for me it caused the need for a hip replacement in my early forties) and the use of anti-fatigue medications and the potential for their abuse, and we talked about his reasons for taking some of the same “maintenance” medications from which I hope to wean myself. It really was an enlightening hour.

And at the end, he shook my hand and thanked me.

“I learned more about MS from this discussion than I did at medical school … though that was over 40 years ago,” is what he said.

But it wasn’t just that he didn’t get the brief back in his thirties. This septuagenarian doctor hadn’t had patients speak back to him about their disease.

What Do You Bring to Your Doctors’ Appointments?

Many people, here at least, seem to only take from their doctors’ appointments rather than bring something to the table. Even with MS patients seeing neurologists here, I find that many patients are dictated to rather than working collaboratively with their consultants as a team.

Perhaps it is, as my wife tells me, a personality trait of mine to advocate for myself as much as I like to think I advocate for our community. Maybe it’s that I spent too much time following orders in my Coast Guard youth to be willing to blindly do so in my more advanced years.

And maybe it’s just a little bit of self-preservation (sprinkled with arrogance) that makes me feel I should be heard.

Whatever the reason, and especially if it’s difficult for you to do so, it is of critical importance that we all learn to speak to our medical teams, not just listen to them. That we set the course with advice of our doctors, not at their direction.

And, who knows, you just might have an interesting chat with someone you may never see again that will change their lives as well as the patients they see after you.

Wishing you and your family the best of health.



My book Chef Interrupted is available on Amazon. Follow me on the Life With MS Facebook page and on Twitter, and read more on Life With Multiple Sclerosis.

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