Write down what you want to say and what you want to ask. Know what you’re hoping to get out of the conversation and be clear with your doctor about that. If you’ve done research before-hand that you want to share with your doctor, make sure it’s from websites that they’ll respect such as the NHS or the British Menopause Society.
Your GP is responsible for your holistic care. They are the one that all routes should lead back to. If you see a specialist, or a nurse, or go for tests, or need emergency care, you should check back with your doctor afterwards. The information should get back to them — but that system can go wrong, so check on that too.
Seeing a specialist
You won’t be able to see a specialist on the NHS without being referred by your doctor. You can ask to be referred but they don’t have to agree. It’s worth noting that women are less likely to be referred to specialists than men! Be specific about what you want from the specialist and keep a record of when you have asked and why.
When you see the specialist ask them to explain what their role is. It’s likely that they won’t take over your care. They may well check for certain things and make recommendations back to your GP.
So it’s important to see your GP afterwards to discuss where you are up to. The consultant may simply have confirmed you are not dying — which you probably knew — but you may still need a conversation with your doctor about quality of life!
If you need to see another specialist, it’s entirely possible that the specialist won’t refer you themselves but will recommend it to your doctor. They’re the ones that hold the overall view of your care — and the purse strings.
Tell your doctor what you want out of the consultation. Is it particular treatment? Is it discussing options? Is it reassurance? Explain your symptoms using accurate words. You’ll waste a lot of time if you ask your doctor about vaginal discomfort if you actually mean vulval discomfort. (The spell check doesn’t even accept vulval as a word. Grrr!)
And if you’re talking about perimenopause and they’re talking about menopause you are talking at cross-purposes. That’s not going to work out!
Keep responsibility for your own body
When I go to the garage and the mechanic takes the time to explain what’s wrong with my car, I appreciate it, but I usually tell them to go ahead and do what he thinks. Same with the washing machine mechanic. But we are not machines. Be clear what risks you are prepared to take and which you aren’t. Ask questions about how treatments (or not being treated) might affect your life. The choices are yours and not theirs. Most doctors appreciate this.
Respect their advice
Having said that, if a doctor tells me that something’s advisable or unadvisable I listen. They have a lot of knowledge, training and experience that I don’t. That doesn’t mean I always have to do as they say. It means I take notice and consider it fully.
When a doctor says ‘come back if it doesn’t improve’, take them at their word. They have a lot of patients. If they don’t hear from you, they’re not thinking about you. It’s up to you to put yourself back on their radar and let them know things aren’t right. You’ll stop being a nuisance when you’ve had the treatment you need.
And be persistent when you’re in there. If they’re preoccupied wait. If they’re not listening, wait. If you haven’t said what you came to say, stay in that seat, get out your notes and wait until they’re listening. And keep at it. Be inconvenient if you have to.
Seriously, they’re usually nice people. They do that job because they want to help people. And they’re doing it in really tough times. They don’t always get it right — none of us do — but when they do get it right, they save lives and they transform the quality of our lives.
Go Easy On Yourself
It can be hard. It’s all very tiring. Sometimes the behaviour of doctors can even, unintentionally, add to the trauma of ill health. Make time to decompress. Check in with yourself later. Talk to a friend. Have cake.