Offering medical advice

Photo: Authority

Within each set of parentheses below, choose one option.

“I was sorry to hear about (your/your wife’s/your husband’s/your child’s/your father’s/your mother’s) medical situation.

“(Addiction/Allergies/Anxiety/Autism/Cancer/Chronic back pain/Constipation/Depression/Erectile dysfunction/Grief/Lice/Lyme Disease/Struggles with weight loss) can be so unpleasant and difficult to deal with.

“I know how you feel. (I/my wife/my husband/my mother/my father/my brother/my sister/my child/my friend/my wife’s friend/my wife’s friend’s husband) had the same problem.

“We found that (chiropractic/intermittent fasting/megadoses of vitamins/chicken soup/eight glasses of water a day/massage/physical therapy/avoiding vaccines/vaginal steaming/squatty potty/leeches/yoga/hiking up Mount Everest) made all the difference.

“You should really give it a try. Would you like me to put you in touch with my practitioner?”

What did you come up with? For example . . .

“I was sorry to hear about your medical situation. Chronic back pain can be so unpleasant and difficult to deal with. I know how you feel. My husband had the same problem. We found that chiropractic made all the difference. You really should give it a try.”

“I was sorry to hear about your mother’s medical condition. Cancer can be so unpleasant and difficult to deal with with. I know how you feel. My wife’s friend had the same problem. We found that megadoses of vitamins made all the difference. You really should give it a try.”

Do you ever say stuff like this? Please stop.

Why you should shut up

It’s natural, if you or a friend has made progress on a chronic medical problem, to want to share what you found. But consider a few things.

If someone wanted advice, they’d ask for advice. If they’re just complaining, that’s not asking for advice.

People with a chronic problem have already investigated solutions. They’re not casting around looking for advice from amateurs. (In the unusual situation that they are, they’ll actually say so.)

Chronic problems are not uniform. Everyone’s weight loss challenge is different. Everyone’s cancer is different. Even everyone’s Lyme Disease is different. What worked for your neighbor’s aunt is not likely to work for the person you just found out has the “same” problem.

You don’t know how they feel. They are not the same person as you. Their situation and yours are not the same.

If they really wanted to try untested crap treatments that haven’t been evaluated in controlled clinical trials, they’d be looking on the internet, not complaining to you. Your trial group of one isn’t actually relevant.

They’re already in pain. You’re making it worse. Your need to share what you learned is not more important than their need to fend off your advice, given their already heavy psychic load.

So what should I say?

Try this:

I’m so sorry to hear that. That sounds terrible. Is there any way I can help?

Then just listen.

Listening is harder than talking, especially when you have “the answer.” But in the end, it’s probably worth more.

7 responses to “Offering medical advice

  1. All those trips up Mt. Everest while sniffing lavender oil finally fixed my kidney stones. It also helped “support” my immune system, “balance” my hormones, and “detoxify” my something-or-other. Why shouldn’t I tell others about it? Especially when I can sell them my Essential Oil Starter Kit… 😉

  2. Wonderful post and to the point. I’ve lived with a chronic condition for over 45 years and this is perfect and will be shared in my chronic community. Thank you.

  3. I have a different perspective
    I am interested in all of the different things people try
    The anecdotal reports from people about what helps or doesn’t has gotten me farther than anything docs did for me I do understand what you are saying and also agree with you…. when people would say oh can’t you just use oils? Seemed disrespectful and hurtful
    But I guess you are right, I was looking for it and wanted to find what others were doing Interesting topic

  4. I agree – with one addendum. If your friend is overwhelmed, the mere question “how can I help?” can add to the overwhelm. If you can help, if your relationship fits the parameters, and if you really mean it – offer specific help. “Can I take the kids for the afternoon on Friday so you can relax?” “I’d like to bring over some ready-to-heat meals. Is that okay? Do you have any food restrictions?” “I go for a morning walk every morning. I’d love for you to join me.”

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