Dear Nurse Wanda: When the Shoe’s on the Other Foot July 12, 2017

Charleston Cares Guest Blogger, Wanda Lefler, RN, is the Nurse Manager at Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic. Each month, she will offer her insight into patient care, health management – and the art of listening. If you have a medical question for Nurse Wanda, please e-mail your questions to

Dear Nurse Wanda: How can I best prepare for a doctor’s visit? Are there certain questions I should anticipate – or ask – to ensure a thorough examination and diagnosis?

NW: I’ll start with a simple anecdote.

A young, healthy woman in her 20’s came into the clinic for a check-up. She and I went over her yearly health form. The box beside “Numbness” was checked with the words both feet written to the side. The woman explained the numbness did not happen all the time, just when she was working or doing errands. She had not had any injuries, nor did her work demand her to be standing on her feet all day. This numbness has been going on every day for 2 months. It usually occurred early in the morning and resolved once she arrived at home in the evening.

The patient added she had tried Tylenol and Motrin, but the numbness did not go away. As we spoke, I observed her new, startlingly white canvas tennis shoes –  which led me to the question: how long she had owned them? After a slight hesitation, she produced the answer: about the same length of time of her numbness – two months. The shoes were a new required part of her employer’s uniform policy. The young woman happily complied when asked to take her shoes off and then place them on again. I observed closely that as she placed each foot into her shoe, she tightened the lace at each grommet assuring a very snug fit. I offered a suggestion: why not loosen your laces to see if it helped with the numbing sensation?  

The young woman returned a few weeks later excited to report she had not had any further episodes of numbness in her feet.

Often, the most important tool that a medical professional can utilize to arrive at the correct diagnosis and treatment for a patient’s health issue is not a piece of equipment or the results of laboratory values. Although those are invaluable, perhaps the most critical tool is to actually listen to the patient about their concerns in light of their everyday experiences.

The outcome of a visit with the doctor depends on both the patient and the doctor. The doctor’s role is to evaluate information from your vital signs, any examination findings, all results from testing including lab work performed and importantly – the details you give about the issue. All of these factors assist the doctor in providing you with the care that is needed so you can get back to doing the things important to you.

As a patient, you also have a role in your health and wellness. The list below is some of the helpful details you can give to your healthcare provider:  

  • What brings you in the office today?
  • What is the problem?  Did it result from an injury?
  • Have you been around others recently with a similar complaint?
  • When did you first notice the problem?
  • Does it continue and become worse or go away and come back again later in the day?
  • What makes the problem better?  What makes the problem worse?
  • Have you taken any medicine for it and did it help or not?
  • Have there been other symptoms? (ex. Fever & chills, cough, nausea)
  • Have you ever had this before? If so, when? Did you see a doctor then?

Of course, the questions will vary depending on what type of health issue you are experiencing.  

The more details you can offer to your doctor about a health issue increases the likelihood of resolving the problem quickly, and perhaps avoids the extensive and costly testing and procedures that may follow – meaning you may miss less time at work, and will be able to get back to doing the things most important in your life!

Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic is a free clinic in Charleston, SC, that provides free medical care to eligible patients, just like any family practitioner or internist. The Free Clinic serves uninsured adults living at or below 200 % of the Federal poverty level who live or work on Johns, Wadmalaw or James Islands. You can follow us on Facebook, TwitterInstagram and YouTube.

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