Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

Getting a Second Opinion

 My father (who knew much more Latin than I do) used to often quote from the ancient Roman writers that he had studied at university.

One particular quotation he was fond of recounting to us  – from the Roman dramatist Terence who lived about 180 years BCE – was  Quot homines tot sententiae . The saying may be translated as “ So many persons, as many opinions” . It is often coupled with the second line from Terence which states: suus cuique mos est meaning “and each has his own way”.

  I am reminded of my father’s words on the not infrequent occasions when someone whom I know socially (and occasionally even someone whom I meet for the first time at a social function) asks me for medical advice. It is usually an opening like “I hope you don’t mind my asking you this – but you are a doctor, noh?” and then asking me, for example, “I have been asked to take Medicine X for my condition Y by my doctor. Do you think it is good to take this?”

My first reaction is to bluntly say “What makes you think that I know more about this particular medicine and your own illness than your own doctor”?  However one has to be tactful in such situations. I 99usually try, smiling as politely as I can, to say “It is really difficult to answer your question when I know nothing about your medical condition – and this is not really the time or place to conduct a proper medical consultation or examination.”

This usually terminates the unsolicited medical consultation (and probably adds to my reputation as a Rude Person) but there are a few folk who, undeterred by my answer, persist with their line of questioning. To them I whisper conspiratorially (if untruthfully) “You know, I have had three stiff Scotches already – and I cannot be relied upon to give a sensible answer with so much alcohol in my bloodstream”.

At this point I get a funny look and my interrogator quickly changes the subject and hurriedly extricates himself/herself from my presence.

But Why do so many people want to seek a second opinion and reassurance – from someone other than their treating doctor- that the therapy prescribed by their treating doctor will work ? Is it because they do not have confidence in their treating doctor? Is it because they believe that if a free consultation might be available, they should avail themselves of it? 

The problem with asking several different doctors what medicine they would prescribe for your illness (especially if most of those doctors do not know the your particular medical history, what allergies and side effects you may be vulnerable to, what other medications you are taking etc.) is that you will get several different opinions.

If you are lucky, you may receive a few concordant opinions. Usually, you will get varying opinions and be left confused –perhaps confused at a higher level than you were before.

The moral of this story is this: Find a doctor you have confidence in and can trust. Ask other people who have consulted him/her and are satisfied with the doctor – and then stick to that doctor’s advice without asking various other doctors “just to make sure”.



This entry was posted on February 4, 2023 by in Health Matters, Opinion and tagged .

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