The value of denial may be underrated

Maybe denying one’s illness isn’t as bad as it’s cracked up to be. I saw an article over the past couple days –but can’t for the life of me remember where– about a woman sent to a physician by her relatives with very advanced cancer. The tumor had broken through her skin causing a highly odorous infection. She was in denial about what was happening and there’s no question she should have been seen much sooner. The article lamented the extent to which people were in denial over their condition.

Yet denial may be more useful than it’s cracked up to me. Some of my physician buddies advise me to “stay away from doctors if you want to stay healthy” and to avoid hospitals unless absolutely necessary. Going to the doctor can often mean being subjected to diagnostic tests. Even when appropriate those tests can easily have false positives, which may lead to unneeded and possibly harmful treatments and/or additional tests. The prevalence of defensive medicine makes it pretty likely you’ll have something done to you if you go in with a suspicion of a problem. That something might not be evidenced based, and even if it is the risks may not be clearly understood or communicated.

And then there’s medical error to watch out for along with hospital acquired infections. Plus you shouldn’t forget the costs and stress.

So while denial isn’t always a good instinct, it’s not always a bad one either.

February 3, 2011

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