Published August 27, 2019
THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT
Are doctors running too many tests and stressing out patients?
By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin
Enough was enough.
I realize that as a paraplegic I require more medical tests than most 72-year-olds. But things were cascading out of control. I began to wonder if so many medical tests were actually unhealthy. Definitely too much anxiety. And maybe too much radiation.
He wanted me to take my annual uroflow test, a test I had taken and passed every year since coming down with a spinal cord disorder seven years ago. The test requires drinking enough water to fill your bladder before going to the urologist’s office where you empty the bladder into a device that measures flow.
It’s tolerable, if the timing is right. But have you ever known a doctor’s office that operated on schedule? Too often I would sit in the office in my wheelchair with a full bladder, waiting to get called, hoping not to embarrass myself. I would fidget a lot.
I didn’t want to go through that again. So I rebelled and said I didn’t think I needed this test. To my surprise, the doctor let me off the hook ... for a year.
My new-found caution about some medical testing had been building as a result of two traumatic first-hand experiences several years earlier.
Right after becoming a paraplegic, I went to an emergency room with stomach pain. The doctor ordered a CT scan. A solitary nodule was found in a lung.
He reassured me that most lung nodules are not malignant and that was probably true in my case since I had never smoked. He told me; however, I should see a pulmonologist, just in case.
The pulmonologist agreed the nodule probably wasn’t malignant, but just in case (again) medical protocol called for me to get a CT scan every 6 months for two years. If the nodule didn’t grow, I was in the clear.
For two years I felt the stress millions of cancer patients feel. Sleepless nights before the test. Stress during the test. Anxiety waiting for results. Repeat.
I was cleared after two years but not before I had absorbed several doses of radiation. CT scans in some cases produce the equivalent to about 200 chest X-rays, or the amount most people would be exposed to from natural sources over 7 years.
My wife and I were stunned when my neurologist told us that the MRI showed a brain anomaly. He explained this was either the result of me moving during the MRI or a rare brain cancer that claims lives in several months if not treated or 18 months if treated. He doubted it was a tumor, but just in case (again), we had to check it out.
More weeks of stress. More anxiety. More tests, including a lumbar puncture.
By the time my neurologist got the final results, I wasn’t too worried. After all, several months had gone by, and I was still alive and taking tests.
It turns out even doctors worry there is too much testing. Several years ago a group of medical specialty boards recommended that doctors perform 45 common tests and procedures less often. They also urged patients to question these services if offered.
Reluctantly, I agreed. I am glad I did. This test actually found something needing attention.
So much for my rebellion against testing.
(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at firstname.lastname@example.org)