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Knowledge – The Double Edged Sword

People always say to me: “It must be so nice to know everything about medicine because then you don’t have to worry about things so much; you already know what to expect.”  This may be true – sometimes.  However, I would argue that the opposite is more accurate, most of the time.  Knowing what I do about medicine just makes everything scary because I know all the worst case scenarios, the worst prognoses, and it makes me think that everything is  worse than it probably is.

Since Friday, A. has been limping.  According to the dayhome, nothing happened leading up to A. complaining that his leg hurts.  He isn’t visibly sick (except for recovering from a stomach bug last week) and he’s still been playing, he just whines and cries that his leg hurts.  He seemed better yesterday, but now he’s adapted his gait and he’s holding his leg in a funny position. I examined him and he has some finding that suggest something is wrong.  Yet, he is missing the things that mean something is really bad.  Despite the absence of the scary symptoms, I am still fearing the worst: septic arthritis, osteomyelitis, avascular necrosis…  If you don’t know what those are, be happy because all you’re missing is needless stress. Thankfully, DH is taking him to the pediatric emergency tomorrow morning (and I can’t be there because of my clinical commitments).

This irrational fear happens to me all the time.  Just last week while I was studying for ACLS, I was reading all about heart attacks and strokes.  All I could do was imagine getting a phone call from my mom saying that one of these things happened to my grandmother (she looked  little worse for wear this Christmas and I’m really worried about her).  This vision extended to me having to listen to some doctor, over the phone, tell me all the bad news, which of course, my family won’t rally understand.  Then it becomes my job to tell them what it all really means… because I know and they don’t.

When I was pregnant with E. I had a few complications, one of which carried a small risk of unexplained stillbirth.  I had to live with that fear for 4 weeks before I was at an appropriate gestation for induction.  It was a small risk – 2%.  Nonetheless, I can’t even remember how many times I freaked out because I got busy and couldn’t remember the last time I felt him move.  A few times I was on my way to the fetal assessment area, only to finally feel that kick or roll and turn around before I got there.  I guess the fear of losing a baby is real for anyone, but I’ve learned about it… too much about it, especially for an emotionally irrational pregnant woman!

And, my pregnancy with A… Well, at my first trimester screen, I had an abnormal result that suggested a higher risk for complications like pre-eclampsia, pre-term birth, and intrauterine growth restriction.  Some people said, “oh, well you’ll have a small baby, that’s great!”  Um. No.  Not great.  Not great at all…  Again, knowing what it all really means is not always as great as it’s made out to be.

I love my chose profession, don’t get me wrong.  I love knowledge, and I love learning something new every day.  I know I would feel very unfulfilled if I didn’t have the opportunity to study medicine, and I worked very, very hard to get where I am today.  Sometimes, however, I wish I could go back to a time when I didn’t know everything that I know.  I wish I could experience that state of medical ignorance, because maybe it would make my life a little less stressful.  Maybe I wouldn’t be so anxious.  I don’t know.

No one is every lying when they say, Ignorance is Bliss.

6 thoughts on “Knowledge – The Double Edged Sword

  1. We have a friend who is just like you. She seems to be a worrier by nature. So her knowledge of medicine in some ways makes things worse. When she starts with “did you know” – you know you are in trouble.

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  2. Gah, my troubles are only just beginning. I grew up the daughter of a pathologist, so I was basically bred to think worst case scenario. It’s what med school preps you to do, right?? Good luck with A., I hope all is well!

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    1. Well, worst case scenarios are what you want to rule out first! However, it sure doesn’t help when you fear you have ruptured an aneurism every time you have a bad headache!

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  3. I hear you. I work in the world of pediatric oncology and every time one of my kids isn’t feeling well I jump to the worst case scenario. I know too much and it drives me crazy.

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