Sunday, January 13, 2008

Manicured Worry

With me being a fancy-dancy public speaker now, I decided to treat myself to a little non-essential beauty enhancement. I am a hand person. I notice women when they have pretty hands and nails. For this reason, I got myself acrylics! I love them!

They are not, however, painless. During the time that the nail tech is grinding them down and smoothing them out, there is some pain involved.

A few days ago, I got my first "fill in". This is when the natural nail starts to grow out (I am going somewhere with this, hang in there) and they reapply some of the acrylic solution. There is more grinding and smoothing done at this time.

When the tech was working on the pinky nail of my left hand, the pain was noticeably worse. It burned and hurt enough that it was hard for me to sit still. I wanted to ask the nail tech about it--I had all kinds of questions starting with "Is it normal for it to hurt so much on one nail and not the others?" I didn't ask, though. I just had the feeling that would be a dumb question and one he couldn't answer anyway.

It made me think of all of the times I have wanted to ask my doctor or transplant coordinator a "stupid"* question. By stupid, I mean a strange question that had no answer. Things like "Is it normal for my rib to move like that" or "When I breathe like this, what does it mean?" These are not things that anyone would know off of the top of their head. The only thing my docs could do to answer these kinds of questions would be to run a bunch of expensive tests. The chance of the tests being able to answer the questions is about 0%.

What I realized while I squirmed in my chair as my nail was burning, was that there is always a question behind the question. The question that popped out, had I chosen not to bite my tongue, might have been "Is it normal..." but what I really wanted to know was if the burning was an indication of a nail bed fungus or infection. (This is something that can happen when you get acrylics.) What was driving the question was my mother's voice--she had made me paranoid about getting a fungus since I am immune-suppressed.

I thought of all the "stupid" questions I had thought about asking my medical team. 100% of the questions were rooted in worry. About 85% of them were rooted in a worry directly correlating to some story or half-fact I have heard along the way.

Here's my point:
As a patient, when you find yourself obsessing over a twinge or a tingle, ask yourself what it is that you think it might be. What is the worry and where does the worry come from. From there, it will be much easier to decide how legitimate or silly it would be to page your doctor for a worry consult.

As a medical professional, try to remember that off-the-wall symptom questions have a worry behind them. You may not know what the symptom means but if you ask your patient what they are concerned about, you will likely be able to tell them what that particular ailment would look like or feel like if they had it. By addressing the worry, you have addressed the root of the question.

I, for one, can not call my transplant team for every bodily warning bell that goes off. For most of the bells, I have to wait it out. Otherwise, I'd be on the phone with them at least once a week! It helps me to become conscious about what is at the back of my mind because it's likely that far away thought that causes my anxiety. Most of the time, when I realize what I am actually worried about, I have a good chuckle and happily go about my day. Every once in awhile, I call my team.

Who knew getting a manicure could be so informative?

*Yes, I know there is no such thing as a stupid question. Well, maybe not to some people but I sure have heard some!


Jen! said...

I love how you articulate things and explain them in a way that makes sense and puts a person at ease. I will remember to try to get to the "source" of my worry the next time I have one! Thanks!

Sarah said...

so ... was it normal for one nail to hurt so much worse than the others?

Tiffany said...

Hi Sarah,

I never asked so I don't know. I did notice that it hurt on both pinkies, though, so I am guessing that it has more to do with the nail and finger being so much smaller. Just a guess.

If my nail turns green and falls off, we'll know that guess was wrong!! :)


Debra w said...


Delurking to share with you that when I used to have my acrylics, some nails would hurt more than others. I think it might have been because of the file, filing away at your actual nail and not the residual acrylic. I found that the closer they came to my actual nail, the more it would hurt. I eventually decided to do away with the acrylics because I didn't want to deal with the pain anymore. I sometimes felt like I was voluntarily being tortured, and that just wasn't any fun!