On Our Own – College student being their own health advocates

by tylernielsen

Being airlifted to Children’s Hospital was not on my agenda for freshman year. Over the course of a month and half, doctors repeatedly told me that I maybe had a simple ear infection, perhaps a sinus infection. “Sleep it off,” one doctor said.

Having been diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes at age seven, I was quite familiar with the hospital and clinic system. However, I had never had to go to an appointment alone or to a doctor I didn’t know. This was a new arena.

Nearly eight weeks after I’d started exhibiting symptoms, I was airlifted to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, with a rare strain of bacterial meningitis. My white blood cell count was above 6,000. Doctors said that if my parents hadn’t brought me in that evening, they wouldn’t have been able to save my life. Three years later, my deaf ear is a constant reminder of what could have happened.

Since then, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 has come into effect, helping some students get better medical care. (Anyone under the age of 26 can remain under their parents’ health plan.) However, although cost is a big factor, it’s not the only one. For many students, college is the first time they are dealing with healthcare issues on their own. Mom and Dad aren’t always there to help with recognizing symptoms, understanding diagnosis, or pushing examination. Rather than overly cautious, most students wind up letting symptoms slide.

Students may wonder if they can trust their doctors. In a world of hypochondria and web-aided self-diagnosis, many doctors allow serious symptoms to go untreated or undiagnosed; even worse, misdiagnosed.

Often times, blind trust is placed in the white coats. But when is it more appropriate to question the professional? Passivity is certainly not the answer. When people take an active role in their care, they fare much better. Knowledge and communication become key components. Experts in patient advocacy recommend the ABCs of talking to your doctor.

Ask questions. Although doctors will ideally talk to patients in easily understood terms, it’s important to ask questions about anything and everything you don’t understand.

Be prepared. Go with questions and do some basic research beforehand. That way, you’ll know if something seems off or incomplete.

Communicate concerns and desires. Assert yourself in situations where you have strong feelings. You may not have a specific preference for an antibiotic, but you also may know past history that your doctor doesn’t.

Taking a stand can be difficult. But for the best results, an appointment should be a meeting of two experts. They’re the expert in their field. You’re the expert on yourself. 

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