When symptoms or signs are not dramatic, patients often find it stressful to decide whether or not to call the doctor or go straight to the emergency room. As a patient, I found it more stressful when a new problem put me in what I call "the gray zone" than when a sign or symptom was clearly a serious problem demanding immediate attention.
What's a Healthy Survivor to do?
Shrink the gray zone. How? Ask your healthcare team to provide guidelines for when to
- go straight to the emergency room
- call the office or doctor on-call immediately
- call the office when it is open
- wait until the next office visit
Shrinking the gray zone, alone, is rarely enough. Even if well-informed, you may struggle: A variety of emotions (for example, anxiety about waking your doctor or scaring your family) can keep you from doing what you know to be the right thing.
I've devoted Chapter 9 of Happiness in a Storm to understanding the forces that keep patients from acting on their knowledge effectively. You will find many suggestions, including making an effort to find your own mantras and develop your own actions that work well for you.
Healthy Survivors prepare for the possibility of entering the gray zone, recognize when they've entered the gray zone, and use a variety of tools for doing the right thing.
Healthy Survivors recognize when a new problem puts them in the gray zone, and they respond in healthy ways.