How could this have been overlooked?

Yesterday it was revealed that Sidney Crosby’s brain wasn’t just injured – the Pittsburgh Penguins captain had also sustained fractures of the C1 and C2 vertebrae.

Translation: the top two bones in his spinal column were broken.

c/o your-neurologist.com

Which left everyone asking last night – on the eve of the NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa – “how did this happen? Or, better yet, how was this overlooked?”

Because doctors and medical staff may have been so focused on treating one thing – concussions and their lingering symptoms, which had sidelined Crosby for all but a handful of games in a span of more than 55 weeks – that something else that potentially contributed to the problem may have been largely ignored.

Of course, now the world waits for Crosby’s medical team and the Penguins’ medical team to elaborate on this. Or spin it. But that’s another story.

What got us to this point isn’t just a commentary on Sidney Crosby’s health. It’s a reflection of what is happening in medicine and in the treatment of patients right now. Our medical system – its doctors, its insurers, its institutions, its ethics – is under attack and under scrutiny. Who is feeling the trickle-down effect of this? Patients.

I was fortunate to see my husband go through a day-long battery of hospital tests after a recent fainting spell … and a litany of follow-up care to figure out what exactly the problem was. The treatement wasn’t so much efficient as it was thorough.

Yet twice in the past year I’ve had friends who have gone through medical problems, whose symptoms have been misdiagnosed by doctors and re-diagnosed by specialists, resulting in further problems and headaches, literally and figuratively.

In the haste to isolate one problem, another problem was ignored. A problem that could be far more serious. Which brings up the holistic aspect of medicine, one that comes with a certain level of institutional ignorance. When I say “holistic,” I mean it not in the sense of herbs and organic goodness and Whole Foods but in the all encompassing sense: look at the whole and not just the parts.

Do we attribute isolating one medical problem instead of looking at everything to the fact that doctors may be overwhelmed? Do we attribute the lack of this to rising health care costs? To HMOs that hamstring its clients? To the politics that surround medicine?

Or, in a sense, to ignorance?

How many of you have gone to the doctor for one problem, had it diagnosed as one issue … but then a whole new crop of problems arise? Or the problem persists, despite diagnosis, analysis and treatment?

Why has it happened? Is it cultural? We live in a quick-fix society. We’ve got too many other things to do besides worrying about a twisted ankle or a splitting headache, so we seek a form of rapid relief. Some are more willing to oblige than to say, “hey, look, we might want to examine everything instead of just what your one issue is.” Or maybe we demand too much of our doctors. Even I’ll admit that I begged a doctor to give me antibiotics when I couldn’t shake a sinus infection before a weekend of work.

But if you don’t feel like something is right, ask for accountability from your doctor or medical professional. Ask him or her if there’s something else that could be affecting you. Do some research on what’s bothering you and ask the doctor, could it be this? What do you think? Seek a second opinion. Or a third.

Don’t have it get worse and ask yourself, “how could this have been overlooked?”

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