I avoid medical imaging and this is why

I have been known to avoid medical imaging, and I’ve been thinking about the reasons why.

Maybe boring deeply into my body with radioisotopes goes against my shallow cellular grain. Maybe I don’t need validation of my self-diagnosis with gadolinium-laced contrast medium. Maybe as a nurse I’ve seen one too many frequent imaging flyers, who could light up a small village radiating their radiation.

Photo courtesy Pixabay

Photo courtesy Pixabay

Or maybe it is because of personal experience.

Incidental findings: I have an occasional bellyache that I’ve diagnosed as a finicky gallbladder. It usually happens after I’ve eaten a fatty meal, and subsides after a miserable few hours. I mentioned this to my doctor on a routine visit, and reluctantly agreed to an ultrasound.

Then I received the dreaded phone call.

Doctor: Great news. Your gallbladder is perfect, however, the radiologist found a cyst on your left kidney.

Me: Why was the ultrasonographer exploring my left side when my gallbladder is on the right? I didn’t authorize her to do a full tour of my abdominal organs.

Doctor: I was surprised too. I wouldn’t even mention this incidental finding but it is a huge cyst. I think you should see a surgeon.

Me: You mean someone who makes her monumental student loan payments by cutting flesh? What’s so bad about having a huge cyst on my left kidney?

Doctor: Probably nothing. These types of cysts are usually benign.

Me: Guess I’ll name her ‘Bea Mine’ and consider her a friend.

Eight years later Bea and I are still buddies. I think she is disappointed she didn’t get more attention, but I’ve kept her in her place, atop my left kidney.

Restatement of the obvious: Two years ago I contracted an upper respiratory infection that rapidly developed into what I diagnosed as pneumonia. I couldn’t lift my head when Patrick scooped my limp body into the car, and drove me to ‘Crawl In Care.’ Seven hours later when I settled onto a gurney, laying on something besides the waiting room floor, a doctor appeared to examine me.

Doctor: I hear rales in the bases. You have pneumonia. Just to be sure, I’d like to do a chest x-ray.

Me: (barely able to whisper) I’ll take your word for it. Will you change the treatment if you confirm with x-ray what you already know based on your excellent clinical skills honed over years of experience?

NOTE: It never hurts to flatter when  negotiating to get your way with a doctor determined to send you to x-ray.

Doctor: Probably not.

Me: (sensing he will cave) I don’t believe I can handle another two hours getting an x-ray. In fact, I think I’m close to scoring a room at the medical center. Let’s push some fluids and antibiotics, and I’ll amble home to recover in the comfort of my own couch.

Doctor: (turning to nurse) Please get an IV started.

Me: (with my last ounce of strength, gives him a fist pump.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against all medical imaging and I know it is has its place when used judiciously. I’ve never felt so athletic and graceful, as when an x-ray revealed my self-pronounced broken foot was a ‘ballerina fracture.’ This gave me license to tell my friends and family that I was the victim of a pirouette gone awry, as opposed to ‘I tripped over the dog bed.’

Have you ever declined having your anatomy viewed in a dark room plastered on a view box? What was your reason?

I avoid medical imaging and this is why-2

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20 thoughts on “I avoid medical imaging and this is why

  1. I see your point and see it well. I’m rebellious against unnecessary antibiotics, but less so about imaging. I had a 10 cm leiomyoma wrapped around my esophagus. EGD needle biopsy picked up only necrotic tissue. Tumor was pressing close to heart and causing chest pain when it finally produced symptoms. Without the imaging and surgery I’d be dead now. During organ shutdown due to misdiagnosed staph infection, CAT scan found 6cm tumor on right ovary. When I finally recovered six months later, hysterectomy. No regrets. I’ll never have ovarian cancer. Both tumors were benign but not small.i was in forties when I started going in for physicals. Maybe should have started sooner but who had time between job and three soccer teams? Since then I’ve had one round of antibiotic resistant pneumonia but my doc skipped over the X-ray and went straight to drugs, round one and then round two. Round two was Avalox and produced immediate improvement. Sometimes medical history and sharp, longterm dr is more effective than imaging, sometimes not so much.

  2. Totally with you on this! I have consistently refused my invitations to mammograms because I have a nagging fear that maybe crushing breasts flat to get pictures could be counterproductive! I may well be gambling with my life but it just feels wrong to squash breasts that may have tumours in them that would have lain dormant were it not for the violent probing. There is research to suggest mammograms are actually putting lives at risk and causing more health issues than they prevent. I am aware that many people disagree and I respect that – this is purely my own opinion. A great post – more people need to think like you do on this matter. Medical imaging has its place but moderation and extreme caution are definitely key, in my opinion.

    • Thank you Stacey. Nothing makes me happier than knowing I have made someone laugh out loud. Maybe when you hit my decade you will have a more discriminating view of the myriad of tests that make up ‘health prevention.’ It just makes me chuckle to think of our health system trying to prevent any illness. And as I grow older I realize every year of good health is a gift I try to give myself with healthy habits. 🙂

  3. Yes, unnecessary imaging and medications are running rampant! I think that it’s because people have become suit happy so the doctors try to cover their butts by ordering and prescribing things that aren’t needed. I feel lucky after reading this that all of my doctors and my children’s doctors take a conservative approach to such things and usually save imaging as a last result.

    • You have some wise doctors on your team, Jessica. And I do agree that lawsuits are a part of the issue. There is way too much imaging going on in my opinion. Thanks for weighing in on the topic.

  4. My daughter had to have a transvaginal ultrasound and the sonographer was psychic. With that wand in my daughter, the sonographer said, “You need to empty your bowels. Are you okay to wait until we’re finished?” My daughter responded, “I don’t have to go. I went before I came here.” To which the woman replied, “Well, I can see you’re going to go again soon!”

    • That is a little too much invasion of personal space don’t you think, Lee? Oh my! I hope I never have to have another ultrasound. I’ve felt like this about imaging for a long time. In fact, when I was pregnant ultrasounds were just becoming all the rage. I had an old fashioned OB and chose him because he had done a million deliveries. Prepared to argue with him against an ultrasound, he said, “Everything is normal. I don’t think you need an ultrasound, do you?” I could have hugged him except he wasn’t the huggy type. 🙂

  5. Sounds like a sensible attitude to me. I have had a couple of x rays and a couple of ultrasounds, but wouldn’t want any unnecessarily. I didn’t realise there were people who did! My little girl had an accident and hurt her hand and wrist once and it came up badly bruised. The doctor was confident it was unlikely to be a break due to her movement & didn’t want to x ray a very young child unnecessarily. I was happy with that – I wouldn’t have wanted to expose her to imaging when it was very unlikely she needed it. Particularly as, had it appeared that her injury was more serious over the next few hours/days, we obviously still had the option to take her back in for more checks. She was fine, it was just a bruise & she recovered very quickly.

      • And here I come a year after this blog to add my two cents (always a little slow on the uptake)! My daughter injured her wrist when she was 6 and when asked at the hospital to move it, she did – because she was told to by a nurse (as if she did everything I told her to do)… turns out it was broken in 2 places! Not that I applaud over-use of imaging equipment, but in this case it was a good thing!

        • Medical imaging definitely has its place and that is great example of when it is necessary. Same thing happened with my son. He could move his wrist but it turned out he had a fracture when we got the x-ray. Of course, his nurse mother told him it was probably fine but I’d humor him by getting it looked at. He’ll never let me forget that moment of Mommy guilt!

  6. Well I might be bucking the trend in replies. My mum died from breast cancer, my dad from bowel cancer and my brother a non smoker from lung cancer. All in their mid 60s. My experience has been that doctors have not suggested but I have asked for testing. I have peace of mind at the moment.

    • I know Carol. I’m conflicted too. I just see so much imaging these days and one image leads to another with findings the medical community doesn’t know what to do with. CT scans of chests find ‘nodules’ all the time and we don’t have experience with what nodules really mean. So then we do a 6 mo f/u to see if it has gotten bigger, etc etc. The worry and fuss that a poor pt endures with these ‘findings’ is difficult.

  7. I’m getting to feel the same way about a lot of medical procedures. I have issues with mammograms because they stretch and then squish my poor little boobs until they are as thin as a sheet of paper and once they’re crushed they send xrays through them. I wonder to myself if that is a good thing – I’d rather feel myself up every month and keep the xray machine away from my chest. There will be cries of horror at this but it’s just how I feel.

    • I agree about mammograms, Leanne. I was relieved when the guidelines went to every two years and wonder what those annual exposures to radiation have done to me for so long. I also am resisting another colonoscopy at this point. It is so invasive and I’ve had two that were fine. There is a lot of pressure to be imaged in medicine these days, and I’m a bit rebellious about it. 🙂

  8. A funny take on a very serious subject, Molly–and you know whereof you speak! There’s just too much unnecessary testing (especially imaging) going on. Good for you for speaking up (even from the gurney at the crawl-in center–love that phrase!). I’ve declined annual x-rays at the dentist.

    • I have stretched out my dental x-rays to less frequent than recommended but with the issues in my teeth can’t cut them out all together, Roxanne. Who knows maybe they will discover that excessive X-rays deteriorates enamel. I get fired up about all the scans, MRIs and views of minute slices of human anatomy. So many times there are findings that may mean nothing but they have to have subsequent follow up images just to track their status. It blows my mind!

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