Ask the Question, I Dare You

When meeting with someone with whom you are consulting and seeking advice from and relying on for critical information, someone like your doctor, it is my belief that you should not leave that meeting without asking him or her at least one question.

Funny thing about those paradoxical little buggers, though…questions, that is, not doctors…is that it seems that the more we know about something, the easier it is to formulate and ask questions about that something; yet, the less we know about it, the harder it is for us to come up with questions to ask about it.

Well, that’s usually how it is for me, anyway.

And I don’t know about you, but for me, even sometimes at my old and calloused age, and no matter how many times that rusty, dull saw “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” is drawn back and forth across my grainy, knot-holed brain, if I feel stupid about asking a question before asking it, then it is really hard for me to get up the gumption to get the stupid question out.

I don’t like Stupid.

It hurts too much.

And, at least for me, far too often.

Oh, and brother…and sister…let me tell you, you should have seen what a nervous mess I was in high school whenever I wanted to ask a question but felt it would make me look stupid(er) if I asked it, which pretty much encompassed just about any question I wanted to ask all throughout high school.

Not pretty.

I am not so bad about asking them now because, long ago, I embraced and (as is evident by all of the ridiculous nonsense that is going on in this ridiculous blog) even began exploiting my ridiculousness, right along with my insecurities and fears…and yes, even my infirmities.

Over time and after a lot of uncomfortable suffering, I have learned that the best way for me to face and overcome all my insecurities, fears, and just about anything else that makes me feel foolish or awkward, is to break them down in my mind as far as I possibly can, no matter how serious or sad or sickly they may be, right down to the ridiculous.

I mean, come on! How ridiculous is it that a six feet five-inch, former 230 pounder, former somewhat burly and excessively hairy self-proclaimed (remember now, I said former) “Manly man” could be afraid to ask a simple question, regardless of how stupid it is?

Pretty frikkin’ ridiculous, that’s how!

And that’s all there really is to this breaking-things-down-to-ridiculous thing.

But in defense of my former self—no matter the size or strength or amount of body hair one has, Stupid, armed only with gnawing and piercing barbs of doubt and indecision, will whip just about anyone’s stupid ass just about every stupid time.

But back to my ridiculous attempt at explaining how ridiculous just about everything serious in life can be…come to think of it, I should change the title of this ridiculous blog from here is where it hurts to TAKE NOTHING IN LIFE SERIOUSLY…SERIOUSLY!

Nah, that would be a seriously ridiculous thing to do, wouldn’t it?


And once I have broken down my insecurities and fears and, yes, even my infirmities, to their most purest state of ridiculousness, I then can happily, and often giddily, laugh at them and ridicule them for their ridiculousness, and then exploit the bloody hell out of them like I so frequently do, mostly right here on your friendly neighborhood “here is where it hurts” ridiculous blog.

So yeah, I do not really have a hard time asking stupid questions anymore.

Howeeeever…depending on the situation or on whom I am directing the stupid question to…

Every once in a great while, I just might have a hard time getting the gumption up to get that stupid question out.

Stupid me.


When I was diagnosed with cancer, a form of leukemia called Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia in Blast Crisis with the abnormal Philadelphia Chromosome (a real tasty mouthful, huh?), everything happened so quickly and the chemo and the steroids and the other drugs were pumped into me immediately and so often, and because I knew so very little about cancer in general and CML in particular, not to mention all the procedures and protocols and pokin’ and proddin’ that it takes to treat it, either I did not or I could not ask the questions I now feel I should have asked about something as devastatingly important as was what I was then going through.

All I could do, as I pathetically lay in my hospital bed while wrapped in my chemo and drug-induced blanket of fog, which I would occasionally and nervously peek out from under to stare blankly back at all the surreal, masked faces of my family and friends and doctors and nurses and social workers and cleaning staff and food attendants and anyone else who floated in and out of my room at any given time and who whose gracious mask-muffled encouragements sounded strained and distant, while their eyes spoke loudly with the voice of their heart of their concerns and their uncertainty and their fears, was to feel deeply and pitifully sorry for myself.

That constant sorrow took just about all of my energy, leaving little for the care or concern to ask the questions I probably should have been asking.

To cope with my lack of care or concern, and so that I could focus on feeling sorry for myself, I kept telling myself that I had little to worry about regarding this cancer thing because I was being cared for and treated by THE Johns Hopkins University Hospital, which was repeatedly voted as the number one health care facility in the nation. At least that is what all the self-promoting, self-congratulatory posters that were plastered everywhere advertised.

Well, as we all know, regardless of an organization’s reputation, even if it is one of sustained superior performance and results such as JHUH says of its reputation, they are still filled with a fallible and fickled species called humans who, while known to do some pretty fantastically wonderful things from time to time, are also known to do some pretty ignorant and stupid things just about all the time.

So, regrettably, in some part because I probably did not assume enough responsibility and make enough effort for my care early on to ask the questions I probably should have asked my doctors, and, in more than some part, because of a few stinkers of medical professionals who were involved in my care and treatment from just about the beginning of my cancer diagnosis and who, I firmly believe, excelled at mismanaging my said care and treatment in an exceptional manner, I feel that my health condition is worse off now than it should be as a result of our collective “efforts.”

And that is how I have come to my belief that one should never leave the doctor’s office without asking at least one question.

Here’s a quick question for you:

What do you call the medical student with the lowest GPA in his or her graduating class?

Doctor, of course.

And here is another revelation that dawned on me during all of this cancer and subsequent Graft Versus Host Disease, stuff of mine:

Doctors, as smart and highly trained and impressive and sometimes, not always, but sometimes, intimidating and overbearing as they are, are, fundamentally, only high paid consultants.

When we get right down to it, they can only make recommendations and give advice, they cannot decide for us.

Only we can decide what is best for our health.

And for us to decide what is best for our own health, we must have as much relevant information possible to make the best decision possible.

And as smart and highly trained and impressive as most of our doctors truly are, they cannot yet read our minds.

For them to be the best consultants to our care and treatment they can be, and for them to be able to provide us with as much relevant information possible so we can make the best decisions possible, and regardless whether they want to or not or don’t have time to or not or are too tired to or not or whatever or not, we must ask them the most relevant questions we can ask.

Some of these relevant questions will be deep and probing, and others will seem shallow and stupid, but all must be asked in order to prod and pull the genius-matter free from our doctors’ very big and very expensive brains so that it can be reconfigured and presented to us in a way that we mere mortals can understand.

Asking relevant questions to very smart people like doctors, is tough, especially if these doctors are specialists. These stereotypicallybedsidemannerless barons of the brains are so smart, in fact (and in fiction, sometimes, too), that they probably have forgotten more about their area of expertise than we could ever attempt know, even if we factor in the internet. And when we do not know much of anything at all about the subject that we want to or need to know about, it is even tougher to ask relevant questions. And when we are afraid that by asking a question it might make us appear stupid, which may just be the case, then that is just about the toughest question of all to ask.

But, we must find, or fight, our way through all that toughness.

And if, even after we have gotten over our fear of looking stupid, we still cannot for the life of us come up with one single relevant question to ask, then at a minimum, at the very least, we should ask:

“Hey Doc, if you were me, what questions would you ask you to help you, er, I mean…me?,” Whoa boy, now this question has me confused.

Let’s try running through that question again.

“Hey Doc, since I cannot think of any relevant questions to ask you, how ’bout you tell me what questions I should be asking you so that, with your answers, I will be able to make the best health care decisions possible?”

Or…something similar, but hopefully much less discombobulated, to that effect.

But you get the point, right?

Just ask the damn questions, will ya?

3 thoughts on “Ask the Question, I Dare You”

  1. Good post. I’d be interested to know what aspects of your care you think they mismanaged– if you could do it over (not a useful exercise probably, but interesting) what would you change?

    Chet tells me stories about working with the residents and doctors at UCSF. Apparently they own brilliant, expensive minds, but also often are incredibly myopic in their application of their intellect to real-world situations (treating patients as collections of symptoms, not as whole people), and almost always lacking in social skills. People are just people wherever you look.

  2. Well, the specifics of what I believe was mismanaged I would prefer you and I discussed offline. But generally what I would change is exactly what this post is about: I would have been more questioning and aware during the early months of my treatment. I assumed too much, especially that the information I reported about my condition to the various members of my team was being properly accounted for and tracked by all members, particularly the team leader–my attending oncologist, and, which I firmly believe, it wasn’t. Yeah, I can fill in all the juicy details whenever we have the chance for an extended talk. But if I had a do over, I would definitely be more questioning, more aware, and certainly more demanding of my health care team.

    Tell Chet he, as usual, is right on the money with his observations.


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