White Coat Syndrome

By Jess

The other day I was chatting with a close friend about her phobia of needles. She had gotten a blood draw and was feeling very relieved that she had neither cried nor fainted (which: yay her! Because facing a phobia without doing either of those things is AWESOME. I personally consider burning my house down every time I see a spider in it, but I feel lucky that spiders are my only phobia because at least nobody ever tries to STICK A SPIDER IN ME).

Anyway! I don’t have a needle phobia, but the whole conversation reminded me of my general dislike of doctors, which I had my entire life until about two years ago. It wasn’t the doctors themselves that bothered me; it was the fear that they were going to tell me something horrible about my health. As in, I wasn’t healthy, and something terrible was wrong with me.

I never got white coat hypertension (my blood pressure has always been normal), but my pulse would race every time I sat there waiting in the doctor’s office. And of course it always starts so terribly, with the nurse weighing you, and then you have to walk back to the office and sit on a paper sheet with that number stuck in your mind, you know?

So here’s the thing that this conversation made me realize: being diagnosed with a thyroid disorder made a huge difference in my life. The medication and management of the condition have not impacted me that much. But the fact that I now go to the doctor on a regular basis? That is an enormous change.

I went to the doctor before, when I had to, which was once a year for a pap smear and Pill refill. That was it. I didn’t go to a GP for a full physical. I didn’t have any chronic conditions or illnesses or anything that required further visits. I tried to get in and out with minimal discussion, minimal testing. If there was something wrong with me, I didn’t want to know about it. Also, even though no doctor has ever lectured me about my weight, I was always afraid that one would say something traumatizing. I was always on edge, waiting for it to happen.

Now? Now I go to the doctor every couple of months. Last year, between my surgery and my thyroid, it was at least once a month. I certainly make the most out of my health insurance plan. I get blood drawn all the time. I am intimately familiar with my medical history and can recite bloodwork numbers to any doctor who asks. I no longer turn my head away when I get blood drawn; instead, I cheerfully tell the nurse that my veins are deep and hard to find, point her toward the ones where past nurses have

had the most success, and watch to see if she’s able to get the vein on the first try. I take a prescription medication (Synthroid) every single day, and will for the rest of my life. I have my vitamin doses memorized. I always know what the scale will say before I step onto it, and I feel good about the number. I even know how to put on those paper gowns the right way around (though luckily, I don’t have to do that very often). My blood pressure and pulse are perfect, every time.

I think

the biggest difference is that I now have full information. Between my endocrinologist and my surgeon’s office, my bloodwork is analyzed regularly. I know I’m in perfect health. I know my weak areas, health-wise, and work with my doctors to figure out ways to address them as much as possible. So I no longer worry, when I go to the doctor, that there will be unpleasant surprises.

I feel like I manage my own health now, in partnership with a team of experts. I am an active participant instead of passively waiting to hear the worst. And therefore I’m not afraid of doctors anymore.


8 Responses to “White Coat Syndrome”

  1. Ris Says:

    I just love this post. I also used to have a real problem with “what if I find out there’s something terribly wrong with me well I just won’t go so I won’t find out, la dee dah.” Not a great way to operate, that. Now I have to go to the doctor fairly regularly for my thyroid as well and I feel much more in tune with my body and how it’s working. I also feel more empowered to ask questions, which would come in handy lest anything be wrong. The dr/hospital I go to has a policy that encourages everyone to speak up and be their own advocate, to the point that there are signs in every room and the nurse is required to tell you that, and I think it must help enormously.

  2. Lindsay Says:

    Another girl with a dysfunctional thyroid here! I’m amazed at how common it is. My trick for getting blood drawn is to ask for one of the tiny ‘butterfly’ needles. I’m a hard stick, and they make all the difference. Problem is, you have to ask for them. They cost more and most people don’t tell you that they’re an option.

  3. Katie Says:

    You’re so right that repeated exposure and increased information make a difference- but that said, I’m still not hoping for lots of future blood draws any time soon. I’m lucky I got out of that one alive. =)

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