I pretty much don’t like doctors. Some of my best friends are doctors, but they know how I feel. I have a real issue with the way modern medicine operates.
A few people you know have a nice, heart-warming medical story to tell you. On the other hand, everyone you know has a bad medical story to tell. Here is one of my many. I’m almost embarrassed to tell it because I didn’t follow my gut and do what I felt was best for myself and ended up paying for it as a result.
I see a general practitioner once a year to do routine blood work and just check in, but mostly just to shoot the shit, since he was my triathlon training partner for years. In 2017, this GP started to express worry about my climbing PSA (prostate stimulating antigen) numbers. When I say climbing, I mean they had gone from 3.5/4 to 5 over the prior two years. Standard of care would suggest that once a man’s PSA gets above 4, his physician suggests visiting a specialist to investigate the possibility of prostate cancer. Mind you, I had had common benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) for the prior 15 years, was asymptomatic, and totally unconcerned.
I had no issues with excessive urination (at night or otherwise). Sexual function was great. No blood in the urine or pain when I peed. Nothing other than a slightly elevated number.
Also, I have written extensively about how bad the PSA test was in predicting cancer in healthy men. For example, 70% of men who have a PSA score of between 4 and 10 do not have prostate cancer. So I knew better. Nevertheless, I heeded the advice of my GP and visited a highly recommended urologist as my PSA was now close to 6. The specialist recommended a prostate biopsy. Knowing what I know about prostate biopsies, I declined, stating that I had zero symptoms and that I was aware that the PSA test was a poor marker and basically walked out of the office kinda pissed at how quickly this invasive procedure was recommended.
If you don’t know, in a prostate biopsy the doctor basically goes in through your anus and pokes what amounts to a hollow knitting needle through your rectum 14 times to take core samples of the prostate. There is a clean out process in advance, similar to that used in preparing for a colonoscopy. Like most medical procedures it is somewhat barbaric when you think about it. Suffice it to say the prostate biopsy isn’t just “something you do,” but that’s how it’s treated.
My GP suggested I see another specialist, so I did, this time recommended by my good friend who was director of surgery at a major Los Angeles hospital. The second one said, “I think we should do a prostate biopsy.” I asked if there was anything we could do that was noninvasive, and he suggested an MRI, so I said “Okay, let’s try that!” I did the MRI, and the result came back “4 out of 5 suspicious for something.” Extremely precise language, right? By this time, I had contacted yet another urologist who read the same radiology report and said “We should probably do a biopsy.” WTF.
At this point, despite my intuition and inclination to avoid what was probably an unnecessary prostate biopsy, but also not wanting to be like Steve Jobs waiting to the last minute and then trying to chase pancreatic cancer away with carrot juice, I acceded. We scheduled the biopsy.
The morning of my biopsy, my new, third, urologist said, “By the way, I read the radiology report and I would not have given it a 4 out of 5 suspicious for something, I would have given it a 3 out of 5.” I said, “What does that mean?” He said, “It means we wouldn’t be doing a biopsy today; we would be engaging in watchful waiting. But, you’re here, you’re all cleaned out, so let’s just do the biopsy so we will know.”
He did the biopsy, and as I was leaving I asked him if there was anything else we needed to do. He said, “No, just take the antibiotics my office gave you.” I said I’d called his office, and they said they “don’t do that anymore.” He shrugged his shoulders, and said, “OK, here is a prescription to pick up on your way home.”
I take the antibiotics and two days later, at the end of a long day of hosting an event at our house in Malibu, I started to feel lightheaded. I thought perhaps it was a result of not having eaten all day and so I took a ketone supplement which usually helps in these situations, started to feel better, and then went to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night with a fever and night sweats. I tried ignoring them to get back to sleep but couldn’t. Something was seriously wrong.
Finally at 4:00 o’clock in the morning I drove myself to the emergency room at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. Within minutes, I was informed that I was in full blown sepsis and it was a good thing I had come in when I had. “If it had been another couple hours you might not be here.”
Sepsis is the unofficial third leading cause of death in the United States after cancer and heart disease. It’s not a trifling thing, nor is it uncommon. Clearly, I had sustained an infection from the prostate biopsy (which, when you consider the process of taking a prostate biopsy, isn’t all that surprising). I spent three days in the hospital on a nonspecific antibiotic IV while they tried to identify the exact regimen I needed for the next week.
And then, to top it off, I get a call a few days later from the doctor’s office. Results came back negative, just as I knew they’d be. It was all for nothing, I didn’t have prostate cancer, and now I have a compromised (scarred) prostate. The medical system took a healthy asymptomatic guy with a common male condition known as BPH, nearly killed him and left him with a less-than-healthy prostate. Happens all the time.
The worst part is that these kinds of near misses rarely make the headlines or the statistics. We only hear about the fatal mistakes. We hear about when people die from medical mistakes, which is quite common. We don’t hear about the times where someone almost died or “only” ended up with a debilitating condition for their troubles.
Every day, countless individuals put their faith in doctors and the medical industry as the all-knowing, omnipotent force that can fix their problems. But here’s the bold, unvarnished truth: doctors and the medical industry aren’t always the answer for everything. Now, don’t get me wrong—doctors are fantastic when it comes to certain things. If you’ve been in a car accident and you’re bleeding out, you sure as hell want to be rushed to the ER, where a team of medical professionals will work their magic. If you have a bone sticking out of your leg, you’re not going to treat it with magnesium oil and a carnivore diet. And if you have full-blown sepsis going down you want a doctor to stick you on IV antibiotics.
This isn’t a post giving medical advice. It’s just telling a story, a story that’s all too common. I blame myself for forgetting to listen to my own intuition—intuition, by the way, that has been informed by decades of research and experimentation.
Have you ever had a great medical experience? How about a bad one, like mine? Let me know in the comment section.