By Michael Hennes DC, DACNB
Our brains thrive on assimilating new information and figuring out what to do next. In fact, the brain’s job is to sift through all of the information we get in a moment and make a decision. Some of these decisions we’re aware of; we think about making them. Is this tea too hot to drink? Is it time for bed? How much of a tip do I leave? Some of the others you don’t think about at all, but your brain makes millions of calculations about them before, during, and after making those decisions: Should I breathe faster or slower? How many muscle fibers do I need to use? Is it time to run or is it safe to relax?
Where does our brain get all of the information it needs and where does it send all of its decisions? The answer is our bodies. Our nerves carry signals from all over our body straight into the brain and back out again. We hear, see, taste, touch, and smell, and in response we eat, think, move, stop, or run.
Do you hear what your body tells you? Our bodies (and our brains) are amazing. They constantly share information back and forth, letting us know what’s happening in the world around us and our place in it. If this communication breaks down we start to get warning signs. We call these warning signs symptoms.
Symptoms make a roadmap for us to follow in figuring out where our bodies and our brains broke down, we just need to know where to look. This is where the problem arises. The biggest dissatisfaction I hear from new patients that find their way to my care is they haven’t been heard. They met with many different doctors, took numerous tests, and even saw some improvement. But, when their symptoms persisted their requests for help seem to meet with more suggestions of the past.
So where does the communication break down? Doctors are taught to recognize patterns and make associations to conditions and treatments based on the patterns we see. We also use language specific to those patterns and conditions. If that language isn’t used to describe what’s going on in your brain and your body it can be harder to make sense of what is going on. Doctors may forget that not everyone has the same vocabulary around their condition, so they either take the words at face value, or worse, make assumptions about what’s happening. This leads to poor recovery and even worse satisfaction.
The solution? Talking more about what’s happening, what has been done, what has worked, and what hasn’t. It also shouldn’t be your job to remember to bring all of this up; the doctor is the doctor, after all. They should be able to ask the right questions and even lead you to better descriptions of your symptoms to help them better identify what’s happening, where it’s happening, and what to do about it. As doctors, we need to remember it’s our responsibility to hear and listen to you and the experience you’re sharing.
Two of the wisest things I ever heard that helped my practice greatly both come from a stoic philosopher, Epictetus. He said “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak,” and “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” The takeaway is this: as a doctor, it is my responsibility to hear what the people coming to me for help say because this information holds the answers to their maximum recovery. It also means doctors must not assume to know the entire history of a person. Sometimes repeating a story is the only way to grasp its meaning and find the missing facts.
It is your job as a driven, self-advocating, empowered individual to seek out the doctors who will listen, start back at the beginning, then listen again and ask questions. Together you will succeed.
Michael Hennes, DC, DACNB is a chiropractic functional neurologist at Northwestern HealthSciences University’s Sweere Clinic. He specializes in concussions, brain injuries, dizziness/vertigo, post-auto whiplash, stroke, neck/face pain, visuo-vestibular dysfunction, headaches, migraines, and sports performance.