We see doctors for diagnosis and treatment. We may not like or agree with the diagnosis, but that’s why doctors hate the Internet.
In today’s post we’ll be discussing the trouble with names. No, we won’t be discussing doctors’ names or the ones we’d like to call them. It’ll be something else – something wonderful.
Just wait. You’ll see.
I saw my doctor a while back to follow up on my thyroid problem. You may recall my doctor found low levels thyroid hormone in my blood a few months ago. It was a eureka moment. It was FINALLY something to explain my constant exhaustion, and it was easy to treat. It was like going to bed in the heat of August and waking up on a white Christmas morning – THEN – finding out Santa brought you that vacation cabin in the mountains you always wanted. But my energy level collapsed again after early encouraging signs.
(And I was a bit pissed at Santa because I didn’t know how the hell I was going to get that cabin out of my family room.)
I was hoping my hormone levels adapted to the medication and another quick fix was around the corner – a higher dose of medication. But sometimes you can hope, wish, pray, perform ritual dances, AND give up your favorite pair of blue jeans for Lent, and you still don’t get what you want. My hormone levels were just fine… almost too fine, even if I was not.
Don’t knock the jeans before you’ve seen them. They’re one of those rare pieces of clothing that make my ass look fantastic.
It was one more thing successfully treated, and one more day I didn’t feel much better. We decided I’d continue taking the medication. Adding one more to the list probably wouldn’t kill me. It hadn’t yet, and it was cheap so it wouldn’t hasten our financial ruin. I figured I was better off with a normal amount of thyroid hormone in my blood, even if its absence wasn’t the only cause of my problems.
But what was next? My blood was as normal as it’s going to get. I’ve followed up with several specialists until there was no point to follow up anymore. I’ve consistently followed most of the advice gleaned from those visits. My diet was better than it’s ever been. My exercise habits were returning, despite a brief relapse while the family was in D.C. For a few minutes, sitting in my Doctor’s office listening to test results I suddenly didn’t care about, I felt like I was back to square one.
What was next?
I’ll tell you what was next: a name… a label.
It’s not a bad label. No one is slandering my good name – in this context anyway. The problem is it’s an empty name. It’s a label without a cause.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
As names go, there isn’t much to like about this one. For all practical purposes (as far as I know), the name sums up everything “we” know about it. Of course, the history of medicine is littered with descriptive names, but in the past they had the decency to use a dead language to do the naming.
Back when literacy rates were low, Latin might as well have been a forbidden language of the gods. To this day it makes certain things sound important… scientific.
Back when test scores in science and math trailed most of the developed world (but before ignorance became virtue), “science” was something of an unquestioned authority (outside the bible-belt). When Science “… decrees you have bronchitis. Go forth and rest with confidence knowing you are not imagining things… you really are sick,” that was that. You laid down, took your medicine, and shut up.
But what if I said you just had inflamed airways? It’s not quite as persuasive is it? Which script do you think you would most likely fill (and pay for): bronchitis or inflamed airways?
Those of you familiar with the language of our beloved Romans, or the health related sciences, need not answer.
I feel a little better knowing the medical community threw me a bone with “chronic” and “syndrome.” A syndrome sounds like a stranger passing you on the street at night – the kind that tickles the fight/flight reflex. “Chronic” is synonymous with lingering and long term, probably because that’s what it actually means, neither of which are desirable when a syndrome is looming.
But “fatigue?” Really? You medicos couldn’t come up with something more credible than fatigue? You do realize that in the eyes of the public, you’ve just given me a hang-nail, don’t you? If you can’t come up with a decent, scary English name, or something Latin, at least name it after someone. Let me throw a couple examples at you to illustrate my frustration.
– – –
Hey boss, I need to leave early today.
Well, I feel like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is catching up with me today.
Yeah, sure. Nice try. Now go back to work. Go on, I don’t want to have to write a Coaching Memo for your file.
– – –
See what I mean?
Now let’s try an alternative, starting with a Name.
– – –
… Well, my doctor says I’ve got Bellew-Kauffman Syndrome and I really feel like crap today.
Get the stink out of a damp dog! John, that doesn’t sound good. What is “Belloo-Caughing Syndrome?”
Well, actually it’s pronounced like “bell-you…” oh, never mind. It’s this condition where….
So the bottom line is I feel exhausted.
Jumping Jehosaphat, John! I’m sorry to hear it. By all means, please go. If there’s anything at all I can do for you, please ask. We were all going to get together and watch some ultimate fighting at lunch, but we’ll say a prayer for you afterwards.
– – –
See what I mean? I give you proof it’s all about the name. I have it on good authority it would go down just like that.
Whoa there tiger! Hold on Dr John, MD.
It turns out one of my doctors did have a suggestion – a next step.
She said I should go see a Rheumatologist.
A Rheumatologist? What does Rheumatology have to do with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
I’m going to have to consult the internets.