The Doctor Will See You Now
Have a question you’ve been dying to ask your doc, but were too afraid/embarrassed/unconscious to ask? Emergency physician and Men’s Health medical consultant Dr Travis Stork is here to help
By MH Staff - Posted on 27th May 2013
The Doctor Will See You Now
1 Fat Chance
If I’m overweight, is it harder to treat me?
Yes. I can’t stress strongly enough how much better your odds are of surviving a trauma or serious illness if you’re fit. This is not a knock on overweight people; it’s just the reality. When people who are overweight and out of shape fall sick or are hurt, they tend to suffer more because they don’t have the underlying fitness to help them bounce back. The more overweight you are, the bigger the problem, so remember that staying fit is about survival.
2 First-Aid Kit
I’m going backpacking and won’t have access to medical care. What should be in my first-aid kit?
Beyond the basics – bandages, antibiotic ointment, some pain killers, antihistamines – pack items that have multiple uses. You can MacGyver a lot of stuff (like splints) with a good pair of medical shears or scissors and some duct tape. Also pack at least one pair of medical-grade gloves, which can keep your dirty hands out of someone’s wound or protect you if you have to help a bleeding stranger. Finally, before you leave, download a wilderness-medicine guide to your phone (or pack one in your pack), which can help even if you don’t have signal.
3 Indelible Bruise
A nasty bruise on my thigh hasn’t gone away after two weeks. Should I worry?
I wouldn’t worry much that the bruise is still there, as long as it’s improving and you don’t have any other symptoms with it. Normal bruises can take a couple of weeks to disappear. Extensive or unexplained bruising can signal a blood clotting issue or other problem, so if that’s the case, it’s time to see a doctor.
4 Bad Gas
Why can gas feel like chest pain and a heart attack make your jaw hurt?
This is due to the way our nerves are wired through our torso and visceral organs. The sensory input from an organ travels up your spinal cord and literally mixes in with messages from, say, your arm or neck. So the physical manifestation of pain can appear all over. This is why diagnosing people can be so difficult. Help your doctor by describing exactly what hurts, how badly, and for how long. More details lead to faster care.
5 Broken Toe
My little toe may be broken. Is there a way to fix it?
It depends on where and how severely the toe is broken. Unless it’s badly misaligned or disfigured, we usually don’t do anything and it’ll heal on its own. You can “buddy tape” the toe to the one next to it, which can help with the pain (which can be nasty). If you’re worried, see a doctor for an x-ray and for help with the pain.
6 Blood In My Stool
I saw blood in my stool, but only for a few days. It went away. Am I in the clear?
The darker the blood, the farther up the GI tract the bleeding occurred. Black, tarlike stools could signal a bleed as high up as your esophagus. Bright-red blood usually comes from the lower GI tract and can be anything from cancer to simple haemorrhoids. If you see a few drops of blood on the toilet paper for a day or two and it doesn’t come back, it’s probably just a haemorrhoid. But if you’re not certain, see a doctor; you may need testing.
7 Food Poisoning
I might have eaten some dodgy seafood. Can I tell if I had food poisoning or a stomach bug?
A lot of times you can’t. There are more than 200 diseases your food can give you. For a doctor, it’s not always important to identify the exact cause. It’s more important to determine how sick you are, because it’s scary how quickly vomiting and diarrhoea can dehydrate you. Go to the hospital if you see blood or mucus in your stool or if you can’t keep fluids down (so we can give you IV fluids and nausea medication).
8 Heartburn vs Heart Attack
Heartburn or heart attack: How can I know for sure?
You can’t. But don’t diagnose with antacids; I’ve seen men ignore heart attacks because tablets eased their pain. Classic heart-attack symptoms include chest tightness or pressure that may radiate to your arm or jaw. Heartburn is more often a burning sensation. If something doesn’t feel right, have it checked out.
My son starts two-a-day pre-season training sessions soon in 35°C heat. How can he prepare?
Beyond staying hydrated, he should start training early. His body needs at least a week to adjust to being in the heat for extended periods. You should also speak with his coach to make sure he understands heatstroke symptoms. When we see these kids in the ER, it’s usually from coaching ignorance.
10 Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
I’m on a computer all day. How do I not wind up with carpal tunnel syndrome?
Pay attention to your ergonomic environment. First, set up your workstation to reduce tension on your hands and wrists. This means adjusting your chair for good posture and forearm support (ask your HR department to help; you just might get better furniture). Also, the only way to prevent any repetitive stress injury is to take regular breaks: give your hands a rest every few minutes and hop out of your chair to stretch at least once an hour. And if you develop symptoms? React – don’t ignore them. See your doctor.
11 Knife Wound
My friend told me you should never pull out an object like a knife or an arrow when it’s stuck in your body. True?
Absolutely true (unless it’s blocking your windpipe). The object potentially creates what doctors call a “tamponade” –something applying direct pressure to a leaking blood vessel. Don’t sweat a splinter, but if you remove something bigger, you could bleed out. That’s why you need trained people to remove the object and control any bleeding.
12 Good Doctors
How can I tell if an emergency-room doctor is any good?
The best doctors are the best listeners. Is yours truly listening to you and making you comfortable? If so – even if it’s a brief interaction in a chaotic casualty ward – you can bet he or she is also formulating an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan. If the doctor is distracted when you talk, it’s appropriate to say, “Hey, doc, are you understanding my story?”
13 Breaking Bad News
How can I help a friend who’s just been diagnosed with something terrible?
Ask him how you can help, and be ready to do as much – or as little – as he wants. If he’s agreeable, start by helping him find a support network of survivors who’ve been through the same ordeal. Support groups provide emotional support and hope for patients that a well-meaning friend sometimes can’t.
14 Stubborn Mom
My mother refuses to follow her doctor’s advice, and she really needs to. Any secrets to winning a patient over?
Tell your mom that you want her around for as long as possible: “Your health impacts everyone in the family. If you won’t follow the advice for yourself, do it for me and for your grandchildren.” That’s sometimes enough. What never works? Confrontation. That just makes a person more defensive.
15 Broken Bone
A friend fell during a hike, and bone stuck out of his skin. How do I help if that happens?
If you can, rinse any dirt from the wound and cover it with a clean cloth. Then stabilise the fracture by splinting the limb. For a wrist or forearm, a rolled-up magazine duct-taped together helps keep fractured bones from moving. For a longer limb, use a rolled-up sleeping pad. Then head to an ER pronto.
16 My Drunk Friend
How do I know when a severely drunk friend needs medical attention?
If a drunk buddy is unresponsive, he must go to hospital right away. If you can’t wake him up, then vomiting won’t wake him up either – and he could choke in his sleep or stop breathing. I’ve had to insert breathing tubes into passed-out people to keep their airways open until the alcohol metabolised.
17 Stay Down
I fell and hit the ground hard in a soccer game. My buddies told me to stay down. Why? I was fine.
After a big fall, your body delivers a massive surge of adrenaline that masks pain. You may not know you’re hurt. I’ve seen people fall, stand up and drop like a stone because of a head injury. Doctors also worry about neck fractures or back injuries. You don’t want an unstable bone fragment moving anywhere near your spinal cord. So let the adrenaline diminish, and make sure you can feel everything before you slowly stand back up.
18 Blood Makes Me Faint
I want to help in an emergency, but what if the sight of blood paralyses me?
Detach and think of blood as what it really is: motor oil that keeps an engine running. If the bleeding is severe, simply wrapping the wound won’t work. Locate where the blood is coming from and apply firm, direct pressure with anything you can find (yes, sacrifice the shirt) until help arrives. Think about it: that bleeding vessel is much smaller in diameter than your pinkie finger. Hit the right spot and the flow should slow.
19 Do I Need Stitches?
How do I know if I need stitches?
If your cut is deep enough for you to see muscle, tendons, fat or bone, or if you can’t stop the bleeding, see a doctor. If the cut is in a spot with skin tension, like an elbow or knee, stitches can help keep it closed. In most cases, the reason we sew you up is cosmetic. If you’re happy with a scar, closing the wound is not always necessary.
20 Crisis Control
How do I decide what to do in a crisis: drive the injured person to an emergency room or wait for an ambulance?
You may think it’s quicker to drive to the ER yourself, but my recommendation is to phone for an ambulance. Even if you have to wait for them, paramedics have the tools and training to provide in-the-field care. Also keep in mind that when you drive to hospital in a private vehicle, no matter how sick or hurt someone is, that person doesn’t go through the door and straight to a trauma unit bed. When you arrive by ambulance, you’re wheeled directly into a treatment room and the staff has already been alerted to the details of the case by radio.
21 Sick Doctors
I’ve always wondered this about doctors: how do you stay healthy when you’re around so many sick people?
Fortunately, I have never had to call in sick. I could say it’s luck, but in the emergency room I’m so conscious about everyone around me being sick that I become extra vigilant. Two good habits help me a lot: religious hand washing, and keeping my hands away from my eyes, nose and mouth, where germs like to sneak in. Those two behaviours alone can stave off the majority of illnesses we all face, whether we’re in an emergency room, at the office or on an airplane. Unless someone coughs directly in your face, of course!
22 Young Doctors
How much should I worry when I get some young, laaitie doctor in the casualty ward? I know they have to start somewhere, but still.
If you have a just-out-of-med-school doctor who doesn’t seem to know what’s going on, you’re absolutely within your rights to ask for a supervising physician. But don’t be too hasty. In my experience, younger doctors can be extremely talented. They’ve recently finished their training and are up to date on the latest and greatest treatments. They’re also eager to gain real-world experience, so they listen carefully to patients. Give the youngsters a chance to prove themselves before you judge them – you’re probably in better hands than you think.
23 Embarrassing Bodies
I hate talking about personal issues with my doctor. How can I get past it?
You may never get past it. And that’s normal. Medicine can be messy and embarrassing. But guess what? Doctors don’t judge. We treat the problem so you feel better. That’s it. So my advice is to address the issue, fix it and move on. Don’t ignore a medical problem, however embarrassing, that could worsen your health.
24 Coughing Blood
I took a nasty hit in a rugby game and coughed up a little blood. It hasn’t happened since. Should I worry?
That’s a pretty ferocious hit, because coughing up blood meant that your lungs were jarred enough to bleed. With a big blow to the chest, I usually worry about broken ribs, a bruised lung, or possibly a collapsed lung. If you have no trouble breathing – and the blood was a one-time thing – then you’re probably okay. But if you have shortness of breath with continued pain, see your doctor, because chest trauma can be life threatening.
25 Scar Tissue
I have stitches. Can I do anything to prevent scarring?
Two things: one, during the first several days, keep the wound protected and clean so the skin edges can come together. Two, as the wound continues to heal after the stitches come out, put sunscreen on it for at least six months. Sun exposure makes a healing scar grow darker and more noticeable.
26 Dislocated Shoulder
I dislocated my shoulder but popped it back in. Do I need to see anyone?
Yes. The key to treating a dislocated shoulder is having it relocated ASAP. You did that, but you still could have damage to the nerves and stabilising tissue in the joint. See a pro for an x-ray to rule out a fracture or other damage. Also, you’ll probably need to sling the arm for a while and then schedule some physical therapy. Only a specialist should make these decisions for you. Remember that once a shoulder is dislocated, it’ll always be at a higher risk for further dislocations.
27 Wounds And Water
I have a bandaged wound. Which is safer to swim in: ocean water or a chlorinated pool?
Neither. Whenever I sew people up in the emergency room, I tell them to stay out of water (except for showering) until their wounds heal. When a bandaged area is submerged, water will work its way in. Ocean water can be loaded with pollution and other nastiness. As for swimming pools, kids (and adults!) pee and bring other bacteria into the water. And chlorine can irritate a wound.
28 Ears Ringing
The concert was three days ago, and my ears are still ringing. Problem?
You’ve suffered permanent hearing loss. The ringing should eventually subside, but hearing loss is always cumulative. Even a one-time exposure to a loud noise can damage you in the long term. Anything over 85 decibels can cause harm, and a rock concert tops 110 decibels – for two hours.
29 Bathroom Hygiene
I see a lot of guys opening bathroom doors with their used paper towels. Is this really necessary? It seems a bit much.
I do it. And I’m down to two colds in five years. If I had my way, all bathroom doors would open without having to be touched. How many guys don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom? And how many do, but then blow their nose in the paper towel before tossing it? That door handle is probably coated with cold viruses and particles of faeces and urine. If you touch it and then rub your eyes, you can get sick. Use a paper towel to grab the handle, or just use your pinkie, which you’re not likely to touch your face with.
30 Acid Reflux
How nasty does my acid reflux have to be for me to need more than antacids?
If you feel heartburn more often than, say, once a week, take it seriously. That burn is your oesophageal tissue literally sizzling from acid, and can lead to cancer. If you’re popping antacids like they’re Smarties, see your doctor for some other intervention, such as acid suppressors or diet changes. Heart disease can masquerade as heartburn, so don’t ignore it.
I have a giant blister on my foot from running. Should I pop it?
I never recommend that people pop blisters, particularly on the foot. You raise your risk of infection by creating an open wound. Leave it alone and stay off the roads until it heals. Or protect a blister with a flexible-fabric bandage. In a pinch, you can try an old runner’s trick: duct tape. If you pop the blister, make sure you do it under sterile conditions.
32 Mouth Injury
I burned my mouth on a piece of straight-off-the-coals boerie. Could I have made it heal faster?
Not really. A burn in your mouth essentially cooks and kills surface cells, and all you can do is wait until they regenerate over the next few days. In the meantime, avoid hot foods that will aggravate the burn. If you’re really suffering, you can treat the pain with an oral analgesic, which is simply a painkiller you can put in your mouth. Next time, though, stop the burn as fast as you can after it happens. Either swish cold water or put an ice cube in your mouth. You can also try waiting for your food to cool off. Just sayin’.
33 Arthritis Hereditary?
Both of my parents have arthritis. Is there anything I can do now to prevent having it myself one day?
Absolutely. Your joints’ cartilage can break down over time if you don’t give them TLC. First, eat a healthy diet to prevent excess weight from stressing your joints. A well-rounded exercise programme is also key. A lot of guys fear that exercise will worsen arthritis and may even give it up. Bad move: exercise can strengthen the muscles around your joints and, as long as you don’t overdo it, help stave off arthritis or slow its progression. So mix it up and cross-train; you want to stay active without placing repetitive stress on any one joint.
34 Sleeping Pills
I use a sleeping pill a couple of nights a week. Should I worry about long-term use?
Yes. Taking sleeping pills regularly can lead to dependence. Medicine can be effective for short-term usage when you really need the rest, but relying long-term on any pill for sleep means that you’re ignoring the underlying reasons for your sleeping difficulty. No pill addresses those problems.
35 Second Opinions
What’s your opinion on seeking a second opinion? Would my doctor consider it an insult?
No! Asking for another opinion is a great way to get additional information, especially if a diagnosis or treatment option is not straightforward. Don’t seek a second opinion, however, simply because you are unhappy with the problem you face. You want deeper knowledge from a specialist with expertise in your specific condition, not an out from surgery or an unpleasant therapy. The best doctors talk with their colleagues and seek expert opinion when a case is confusing. It’s a good idea for you to do the same.
36 Heart Problems
I fight through chronic health problems every day. Any strategies for staying positive?
Remain physically active whatever way you can. Most chronic health problems respond positively to physical activity, and the mental boost can also be remarkable. If your health keeps you from your favourite physical activity, you may need to find a new one to love. That’s okay; it’s far better than nothing.
37 Back Pain
My lower back is killing me and I’m overwhelmed by the possible treatment options. How do I decide which is best?
Start with your GP to pinpoint the cause of your pain and then approach the problem with an open mind about treatment. Back pain remedies don’t have to be a one-or-the-other proposition. Some people swear by yoga, while others use acupuncture or massage therapy; still others rely on anti-inflammatory meds or injections. Everyone will try to give you religion on their particular method. My advice: be patient and consider a multifaceted approach to your treatment, led by your GP.
38 Under Pressure
Is it cheating to check my blood pressure after a nap, when I know my BP is lowest?
Nope, it’s fine. The important thing about monitoring your BP is consistency – doing it the same time of day, same mood, same chair, same posture, everything. That way you see changes immediately and you know it’s not situational (stress-related, say). If you notice your numbers trending up over time, it’s the real deal. See a doctor.
39 Too Much?
I take over-the-counter pain relievers four or five times a week for workout soreness. Is that too much?
When taken properly, OTC pain relievers are usually safe. But be careful: acetaminophen overdose is a leading cause of acute liver failure. It’s in hundreds of OTC and prescription meds. And ibuprofen may make you more prone to ulcers. Before taking any OTC med, I ask myself, “Do I really need this?”
I hate going to the doctor for routine stuff. Can I monitor my health on my own?
Monitor your lifestyle, weight and subtle changes in your health – and notify your doc when something isn’t right – and you don’t need to spend much time in the doctor’s office. Many problems are silent, though and that’s why you should have a professional check your cholesterol, fasting blood sugar, blood pressure and any suspicious moles.
I suffer sudden, intense headaches when I exercise, and even sometimes during sex. Why?
We think “exercise headaches” are due to increased blood flow in the brain during strenuous exertion. The most common, primary exercise headaches, are generally benign and often exacerbated by working out in heat or high altitude. Secondary exercise headaches are rare but scary – they may come with nausea, dizziness, and neck stiffness, and signal a true problem in the brain, such as bleeding or a tumour. See your doctor to make sure everything is okay. You can then pinpoint triggers and devise a treatment plan.
42 Nature's Course
Is it better to medicate a fever, or should I just let it run its course naturally?
Many people’s philosophy is to pop a pill as soon as they detect a fever. But before considering medication, pause and take honest stock of your condition. If you have only mild symptoms, it’s totally fine to avoid meds and let your body’s infection-fighting process do its job. If, however, you have a miserable fever with body aches and chills, acetaminophen or ibuprofen will often relieve these symptoms. In any case, I advise you to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, stay hydrated rest, and seek evaluation if you’re worried.
43 Prescription Pills
I took an extra prescription pill by mistake. Is that bad?
In most cases it’s probably not a big deal. But it depends on the medication – you could be lowering your blood pressure or blood sugar too far, for example. Don’t try to fix it yourself by skipping the next dose; that could be harmful. No matter what the pill, call your doctor for instructions. If you can’t get through, call your pharmacist.
The Doctor Will See You Now