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My medical system horror story [Aug. 27th, 2010|12:13 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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Even as a relatively healthy young adult, I've had many horror stories in my brushes with the medical system during my few years in America. One of them is ongoing, so I thought I'd talk about a different one from a few years ago.

In late 2007 I began experiencing numbness in my arms, then my feet and legs. At first it was only while sleeping, later even while sitting. I quickly narrowed it down — if I stopped weight training the numbness gradually went away. Regular readers will know how much I rely on weight training as a source of mental strength (yes, mental strength), so I wanted to do everything I could to find a remedy before I could consider quitting.

It turned out to be harder than I thought. I got bounced around between doctors, five in all, four of them specialists, dozens of tests over a period of six months. Blood tests, MRIs, neurological tests, you name it. The latter involved pricking me with needles to deliver shocks to my nerves to see how far it made my arms and legs jump. Needless to say, quite painful. Those tests were supposed to detect if I had any nerve impingements, among other things.

The whole thing must have cost thousands of dollars in taxpayer money. At the end of it all — nothing. That's right, no diagnosis.

I was about to give up, when in a last-gasp attempt I decided to ask the Interwebs. Specifically, gymrats.

Someone posted the answer in seven minutes.

They said it was nerve impingment and that it was occuring because I wasn't stretching my neck muscles properly before lifting. That turned out to be entirely correct, but unfortunately I didn't have a chance to find that out until I could try it a few days later. And since livejournal's search (as well as robots.txt) is horrendous, I haven't been able to find that post. Whoever that person was, they have my eternal gratitude.

Apparently a common problem, with such a trivial remedy. (After I started doing proper neck stretches the numbness hasn't recurred.) As for the medical system.. to my lay eyes in many ways it seems set up to maximize the waste of resources.

It appears to me that if there were a wiki where doctors as well as patients could pool their collective case reports/personal experiences, and if doctors walked around with an iPad, and querying this knowledgebase became integrated into the diagnostic process, the time and money spent on diagnosis would be cut dramatically, and the accuracy would improve as well.

I have many doctor friends/acquantances, and most of them complain about patients self-diagnosing themselves on the Internet. Well guess what, if doctors weren't so universally IT-phobic then maybe patients wouldn't feel the need to do that. Technology is the solution, not the problem!

There are other things that I think seriously wrong with the medical system in this country, but those will have to wait for future posts.

[User Picture]From: cubby_t_bear
2010-08-28 04:54 am (UTC)
I think it was important that, in this case, you checked with a knowledgeable community, that is to say, a community of people who are very health-conscious, and aware of the medical issues that can happen around weightlifting.

I suspect somebody who just randomly googled around and played with Wikipedia, without actually looking up the definitions of all the words, is closer to the sort of thing that makes doctors groan.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-08-28 08:11 am (UTC)
That is certainly true. While I acknowledge that doctors have a legitimate cause for complaining about self-diagnosis, my point was that they're probably making it worse by not incorporating IT into their own diagnostic processes. And while I say "doctors," I realize that there's blame to be placed elsewhere as well, like administrators and regulators.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-08-30 02:53 am (UTC)

mental strength?

Would you mind explaining what exactly you mean by "mental strength" which you say you benefit from weight lifting, aside from the sexual confidence it bestows upon you? I am not fully convinced about doing weight lifting yet, so very interested in what you got to say. Thanks!
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-08-30 03:16 am (UTC)

Re: mental strength?

Heh, I wouldn't think "sexual confidence" falls under mental strength.

What I mean is simple — your willpower greatly increases with weight training. At least it did for me, and I think it would work for anyone if you do it right. I'd imagine you would get a similar benefit with distance running, or any physical activity where performance is measurable and you constantly strive to exceed your personal best.

Two gotchas: 1. I'm kind of addicted, whereas if I had to force myself to go, I doubt I'd get the mental benefits. 2. Training to failure is important — it is mind over body in its purest form, and I suspect that's a big part of why it impacts willpower.

I've written about my experiences here.
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From: xegv
2010-08-31 12:40 pm (UTC)

Medicine vs. Trauma

Having been in the US for six years, I feel that the US system is set up to handle trauma cases very well (e.g., broken bones, accidents etc.). But not so with stuff that go wrong inside e.g., pathology. The medicine departments prescribe four times the pain killers when compared to India to numb all pain and in general give out quite a lot of medication, which don't always help.
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[User Picture]From: simonfunk
2010-09-05 05:46 am (UTC)
I see the future of medicine -- which I think we could have today, but realistically will take fifty years because of politics and arrogance -- would pretty much eliminate "doctors" except for medical researchers, and all hands-on would be done by "nurses" who are trained to observe and poke and prod and interface the real world to the computer. The computer would in turn run bayesian analysis (learned from extensive and ongoing world-wide experience pouring in constantly -- not human-concocted like an old fashioned expert system) and ask the necessary questions (for the nurse to answer) or request labs, etc, at all times having a statistical distribution over all possible hypotheses maintained, etc. Questions like yours should be readily answered by such a system, and probably from home. (You'd always start by going to the site and trying to resolve the matter from home...) Quick brush, but it's pretty straightforward, the problem is it would completely undermine the power hierarchy of the medical establishment so it will be a long time in coming.
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