Saturday, April 25, 2009

Say 'No' to Thugs

We are able to say “no” to our children, teenagers, relatives, friends, and significant others. So why is it so difficult to say "no" to doctors?

Society is groomed to say “yes” to authority figures – particularly doctors. Maybe it's because we are inundated with TV shows and all kinds of medi-dramas that place doctors smack in the middle of a medical pedestal. From TV's Marcus Welby to Emergency to Trapper John MD to ER to Grey's Anatomy, it's all the same rhetoric: a doctor's word is good as gold.

I've built a team of excellent doctors, all of whom I trust with my life. But I couldn't get to this point without making hard decisions about which doctors to hire and fire. (In a future blog, I will discuss how to hire and fire doctors.)

Not questioning doctors can result in all sorts of problems for the patient. At its very worst, though, not questioning doctors can land you a spot at the county coroner's -- and not an adventuresome one like that depicted in Quincy.

And if you find yourself facing a combative doctor who is trying to bully you into compliance, use a very effective technique: civil disobedience.

In short, say "no" to thugs.

Here are just some of the doctor thugs I said "no" to:

  • At the time of my diagnosis, I sought a second oncologist's opinion. He chose a treatment protocol that I later learned would likely have caused long-term damage to my heart. I also asked him about harvesting my eggs because, despite my dire terror, I was hoping to have a baby after cancer. He said, "You might want to think about how fair it is to bring a child into this world, only leave it an orphan." I left that appointment sobbing. I said "no" to him and "yes" to the first oncologist I had seen. And each day I am grateful for that decision.
  • When I was planning my preventive double mastectomy, a surgeon also recommended other organs get removed as a prevention. Based on the judgment of my excellent gateway doctor and excellent oncologist, I said "no." He proceeded to bully me by interrogating me on the phone as to why I was not removing these organs, and I infuriated him (not purposefully) when I said that I was following the advice of my other doctors instead of his advice.
  • Dr. Remove-All-Your-Organs finally got over his anger with me and, in an act of good will, offered my mastectomy surgeon his assistance in the removal of my breast tissue. She called me to ask what I'd prefer: her alone or the two of them working together. I told her that I didn't want that man to ever touch me and didn't want him anywhere near me on that day. In fact, he'd better not even be in the operating room! (I would've liked to say, he'd better not even be in the same hospital as me on that day, but that would be pushing my luck.)
  • Another doctor I consulted who wanted to remove some organs during the mastectomy (yes, there was another organ-fixated doctor) started interrogating me after the surgery as to why I didn't follow his advice. I was stifled at that point, but once I got my bearings, I fired him.

This is not to say that we should barrel into a doctor's office, treat them with disrespect, or be deliberately contrary. Doctors are often right about our medical needs.

However, we should never forfeit our rights to be key players in our own health care. And if you encounter arrogant bully-doctors, just employ civil disobedience: Say "no" to thugs.

Beth L. Gainer is a professional writer and has published an essay on her breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. She teaches writing and literature at Robert Morris College in the Chicago area. She can be contacted at and She also blogs on the adventures of her cats, Hemi and Cosette, at



  1. More excellent advice, Beth. You should write a book. :)

  2. Thanks, Jeannie!! I'm so glad you are enjoying my postings. Maybe there will be a book? Hmmmmm

  3. You have to follow your own instincts and always get a second or even a 3rd opinion.