This is probably the most often asked question a health care practitioner has to answer. Believe me, as a doctor I feel the weight of responsibility to get the job done. Also, there is no harder day at the office that when people are not getting better. And they tend not to get better in bunches of people so as to torture me into a state of worry. On the other hand, when someone says, “Wow, I feel so much better,” it makes my day. And I hear it a lot. It’s why I do what I do.
Patients have a right to expect results. It is frustrating for a patient to have to suffer through the aches and pains of an illness or injury without knowing when it will come to an end. As if the pain of your problem isn’t enough, there is the stress of mounting expenses for treatment. Then there is the uncertainty about your future. Am I ever going to get over this? Will I ever be able to play tennis, run, garden, or lift up my grandkids when they reach for me? Patients often wonder if their lives will be forever changed in ways that will diminish them. The grim prospects of a future not worth living can cause stress that just adds to the problem.
Often, the question “When will I get better,” slams into the internal consciousness of a doctor like a lead sled and sets off alarm bells clanging. I have come to realize that when people don’t have an answer to questions about their health, they will invent their own answers. Those answers are never good. A small problem becomes a bubbling cancer oozing thick gooey stuff that can only be treated in an isolation ward with medical tape and a lot of gauzy looking bandages. A backache becomes a stooped over lady with a huge hump and fingers so crooked that no one can tell which way you are pointing. There is an endless capacity for people to create a parade of horribleness, it’s our human nature.
I use an equation to answer the question for when wellness will arrive. Here it is:
- Age divided by tissue quality
- Add in coefficient of fitness and subtract the severity of the illness
- Add length of time of the injury or illness times any perpetuating factors
- If you have a very annoying relative or boss multiply times ten
- If you are doing your exercises and taking your vitamins subtract a multiple of ten from the above equation
- Subtract the skill of the doctor from the severity of the problem
- If the diagnosis is correct subtract another 100 points
- If the doctor is kind subtract this from the illness
- If you are taking a lot of medicines with names that sound like Tri-no cash-atohl we have no way to calculate this
- Calculate the length of time of any degenerating joint problem such as arthritis, spinal stenosis, or humongo-boneyosis and multiply by your age, weight, daily joint strain, and stress, then divide by good dietary habits, exercise, optimism and good chiropractic treatment.
These are the basics of decision making when creating a treatment plan for a patient. You have probably deduced from this equation that there is no way your doctor can tell exactly when you will be better. It would be like predicting when a light bulb will finally burn out or when your kids will finally get a job.
As complex as it seems, I am pretty accurate in my prognostications. After 37 years in practice I have cubic gigawads of computational analysis to draw from and an the answer usually sounds like, “You should feel better in the next week or so, then you’ll have some soreness that will last another couple of weeks.’ After that you will need to do exercises to strengthen your muscles and increase mobility. Your aging joints will need treatment to keep the spinal dilapidation that you now have from getting worse.”
If you are an athlete your answer usually sound like this: “Bob, you have run way too fast and pulled a muscle, there is no way you are going to be ready to run the Marathon two weeks from now, here’s a kleenex.” Or: “You have a minor problem and you will have to continue this madness and unfortunately, you are going to be running the marathon two weeks from now. Please wave to Bob as you pass by.”
I hope this helps,
Dr. Steve Smith