Dr. House MD Caricature Hugh Laurie

As an adult with ADHD, I’ve never been at a loss for questions and this is especially true when I’ve given someone tacit permission to poke, prod, x-ray, and provide potent chemical substances meant to assist healing or at least mask my symptoms.

With this in mind, I felt even more empowered to ask questions after reading Confessions of a Medical Heretic. It was written in 1979 by Robert Mendelsohn, M.D. (I finally got around to reading it.)

Written by a medical doctor, Confessions describes the dangers of putting blind faith in those to whom we’ve ascribed near-supernatural powers and unquestioned authority over our body, mind, and soul.

Putting it into practice

Half way through the book I found myself at my optometrist’s office. Having taken Dr. Mendelsohn’s words of empowerment to heart, I decided to question any test I was uncomfortable with and ask if there was an alternative.

No thanks. They might as well be shooting my eye with a paintball gun at close range as use the horrifying puff-of-air test (which, to a person with hypersensitivities, feels like a laser beam of concentrated air traveling at a velocity that could blow a hole in the back of my head).

Forget it. I won’t be having that test.

I felt a thrill of power by merely uttering a declarative sentence taking back my right to decide. I was kicking medical butt!

And yes – as it happened – there was an alternative. Who knew?

Extra challenges for the extra-challenged

Still with Dr. Mendelsohn’s heretical suggestions in mind, I attended a follow-up appointment with an ophthalmologist.

A receptionist greeted me with a barrage of personal questions, starting with verifying my address and phone number and ending with my medical history. This wouldn’t have been off-putting except for the fact that my answers could be heard throughout the two adjacent waiting rooms.

I wasn’t the only one who instinctively lowered my voice in a futile effort at confidentiality. Now that my ADHD impulsivity is in check, I’d never give my phone number to strangers. How is it that a medical office could force me into doing just that?

As someone who’s been stalked and received death threats, I’m a tad sensitive to giving out my address and phone number when two full rooms of strangers are in hearing range.

What about those of us with ADHD, anxiety disorders, etc.?

These appointments got me thinking: medical appointments are inherently stressful; how much more upsetting is it for those of us with anxiety disorders, paranoia, or even just a healthy sense of privacy (we’re not all memoir-authors and tell-all bloggers).

Having ADHD or any other mental health issue is disempowering and stigmatizing in and of itself; add to that the impact of the emotion-less command to “Take off your glasses,” versus a polite request to “Please remove your glasses,” and the power-over, self-anointed authority of the medical staff becomes even more unsettling.

Dr. Mendelsohn talks about the power imbalance of the medical system, where we’re accustomed to being passive recipients of the near super-natural powers of the almighty medical personnel whom we expect to “cure” us with their advanced knowledge, potions and pills.

But adults with ADHD often feel a learned powerlessness; our lives have spun out of control, which is why we got our diagnosis in the first place.

I was led into an examination room.

“You can sit there.”

I responded by extending my hand. I’m Zoe. What’s your name? I refused to partake in an exchange stripped of humanity and reducing me to an inanimate cog in the wheel.

When the technician brought out a pen-shaped instrument and pointed it at my eyeball, I asked about it. Does it use sound waves? I asked. “I don’t have the words to explain it,” she answered.

Maybe it’s because of ADHD battle scars, but I found her answer mildly patronizing.

Re-learn to trust your gut

Dr. Mendelsohn suggests we should trust our fear of hospitals, as it’s well-founded, given overworked hospital staff; frequency of hospital-acquired infections; and medical mistakes, to name a few inherent dangers.

If you’ve got ADHD you might have become accustomed to questioning your instincts and perceptions. Don’t. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instinct. Get a second opinion, find a different practitioner, or ask around to learn about the experiences of others with your condition. And, as Mendelsohn suggests, don’t hesitate to ask a doctor to wash his or her hands before they examine you.

In an inherently stressful situation, where you’re afraid for your health and the work, diagnostic tools, and procedures are unfamiliar to you and being practiced by people you’ve never met who refuse to answer your questions and trounce your privacy, I would encourage trying Dr. Mendelsohn’s recommendations. Remember: you’re paying the staff who serves you. They’re working for you, not the other way around. It’s your mental, physical, and emotional health that’s at stake.


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Dr. House MD Caricature of Hugh Laurie Creative Commons License Nelson Santos via Compfight