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Friday, May 13, 2011

Too Busy to Schedule Annual Exams? Think Again

I know, annual exams are time consuming, and for someone who is in or has gone through treatment for cancer, routine exams may feel like just one additional burden. However, anyone who has faced cancer or any life-changing condition knows that prevention and early detection are critical. We also know that some issues don’t always present themselves with symptoms and many are often difficult to diagnose. We know that there is cross-over detection when you see more than one doctor (i.e. your ob-gyn may discover something your internist may have missed, dermatologist might see something one of your other doctors missed…you get the idea). Likely you feel compelled to put off these exams. I like all of my doctors; I just prefer to spend my time elsewhere. However, I urge you to make and keep those appointments.

I was scheduled to see my Ophthalmologist in March, but gave my appointment to my son as he wanted to get new glasses and I wanted his eyes checked first. I rescheduled for a month later. After my routine exam, the doctor tells me, “Okay, the good news is that your vision hasn’t changed. However, we need to talk”. I never like to hear these words from any doctor. He proceeds to tell me that last year I was at medium risk for Acute Glaucoma and that now my risk has elevated to high. He tells me that AG is somewhat common in people who are very farsighted (has to do with angles, I will spare you all the details here). He proceeds to tell me that I could live for 100 years and never suffer an attack. The problem is there is no way to know which of the patients with this problem will suffer an attack. However, if I did this would be a medical emergency, and if I did not get proper medical treatment immediately I would suffer complete and irreversible loss of vision. The room goes quiet. I had no symptoms as there are few. The warning sign for an attack is you wake up during the night in excruciating pain and need to rush to the ER. He explains the preventive procedure, that this is a laser procedure and is mostly risk-free. I ask him when I need to do this surgery. He says there is no rush, just don’t leave town and don’t use any form of antihistamine as this could trigger an attack. I tell him I suffer terribly with allergies and go away most weekends. I schedule the appointment for the following week. I will need to come back for the second eye; they don’t do both at the same time, just in case. Humm….I think, I thought this was risk-free. A gentle reminder that there is a language barrier between patients and doctors.

I am happy to report that two procedures later, I have my vision. I am not a believer in “what if’s.” They have no purpose in life except to add excess worry and fear into one’s life. However, I am once again reminded that life and its gifts are not to be taken lightly. Today, I made an appointment with my oncologist, just to say hello—

Elyn Jacobs

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