Posts Tagged ‘catastrophizing’

Have imagination, will catastrophize. Professionally.

April 16, 2017

Here’s a subject in which I’m well-versed,

And for 40 years I’ve been immersed

When it comes to the best

I’ll just keep it in jest.

I’m paid to think of the worst.

Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, traveled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I went back to adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system I can get along with. Assignments in Nome, Alaska, rural Iowa, and suburban Pennsylvania stretched into fall 2015. Since last winter I’ve worked in Alaska and western Nebraska, and taken time to deal with my wife’s (benign) brain tumor. After a moose hunt in Canada, and short jobs in western Iowa and Alaska, I am working in Clarinda, Iowa. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

Some people have a thought process that involves using their imagination to the worst possible effect. They think of all the things that can go wrong, and, sooner or later, they run into health consequences from dwelling on negative things that haven’t happened.  The medical profession has a term for this phenomenon; we call it catastrophizing.   As time goes on, the catastrophizer dreams up more horrible scenarios; they come to my attention when they develop insomnia, depression, and other problems.

I try to point out to the person in question that they couldn’t have anticipated the 10 worst moments of their lives, and that none of last 10,000 terrible “what ifs” they imagined came to pass. Therefore, it follows, that just by dreaming up negative scenarios, they prevented them.  Mostly, they don’t listen.

In the daily course of my work I think about the worst things I can imagine. I’m good at it, I’m a pro.  I have talent, training, and experience.  I can think of really terrible things.

Of course, like the experience of any catastrophizer, most of the really bad things I think of never come to pass. The thought doesn’t quite cancel out the possibility; I run the diagnostic tests.  At the end of the visit I frequently say, “You want me to be wrong.  You want to walk away from the tests shaking your head and complaining about what an alarmist your doctor is.”

A patient (who gave me permission to write this) came in with terrible pain in her hands. I thought of Lyme disease and rheumatoid arthritis, and ordered appropriate tests, but I also examined her med list and decided to at least temporarily remove the most likely candidate, her statin.  A week later, the pain is gone, and she feels better.

I also did not diagnose cancer, Lyme disease, syphilis, B12 deficiency, lead poisoning, measles, sepsis, and meningitis. Despite of string of previous successes, I also failed to find folic acid deficiency and polymyalgia rheumatic.

But I went looking for them. In my case, imagining the scenario doesn’t prevent it.  But, then again, I’m a pro.