Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Home » News » Columns » Be Your Own Advocate

Be Your Own Advocate

You just heard from your doctor, in a rather solemn tone, that your test results came back on a CT scan and there is an “irregularity.” You are told you will need a follow up appointment as soon as possible with a specialist. Your primary care physician (PCP) says that their office is glad to make the appointment, but you have been in pain long enough and the stress of not knowing is getting the best of you so you prefer to do it yourself. 

You immediately hang up and call for an appointment with the specialist but the phone rings and rings unanswered until a voice message comes on asking you to leave a detailed message. You hang up and try again and again as you visualize the worst from the news you received from your PCP. This time someone answers and you hear a lot of voices in the background as a rather flustered young attendant answers the phone and asks, “Can you please hold?” Ninety seconds go by, but it feels like 20 minutes before they get back to you. After you explain your situation, the attendant responds in a rather nonchalant and unsympathetic tone, “The first available opening is in three months.” 

Suddenly your heart starts racing, your palms start to sweat, and your anger and frustration start to build.  Three months? Are you kidding me? You plead with the individual on the phone and all you get back is “I’m sorry, but with COVID we are swamped, and this is the best I can do.” You’ve always been a very compliant person and you are empathetic. You understand they are just doing their job and others are trying to see the specialist as well. So, you resign yourself for the time being that there is nothing that can be done and accept the assigned slot.

As you hang up the phone you start to get emotional. Tears of fear, frustration and anger start to build, and you become anxious and even depressed. “What do I do?  Who can I call? There has to be a better solution,” you tell yourself. This is, as the saying goes, “a moment of truth.” As you take a deep breath and get composed, all sorts of thoughts and questions are running around in your head.

The real question you should be asking yourself is, what are you prepared to do to be your own best advocate, right here and right now? To advocate or not to advocate, that is the question.  

This isn’t like you are calling in a favor to try to get a better seat at a concert or football game; this is your health we are talking about. If you won’t stand up for yourself right now who will? What if it was your spouse, child or a parent that was ill, and you were responding on their behalf?

With all due respect to the overwhelmed medical community, if this is my life and my health we are talking about, then I am going to be my own best advocate to the very best of my ability. Circumstances do matter and this sounds like a serious situation, and your ability to tell your story matters. While I am certainly not talking about someone looking to “cut in line” for convenience’s sake, I am concerned that, at this particular junction, far too many people will not do what’s best for them, and that is to become your own best advocate.

There is a big difference between professionally and responsibly advocating for yourself and being a P.I.T.A. You must be self-aware enough to assess if your situation demands another try on your part. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking up, then find someone who will advocate for you. The point is that I would err on the side of being proactive especially in a case with so much uncertainty and ambiguity where your health is at stake.

In this particular circumstance, I would suggest trying a few of the following options as dispassionately as possible and with as much grace as you can muster:

1. Call your PCP’s office, explain the circumstances and ask if they would please have your doctor call on your behalf.

2. After you have become composed, call the specialist’s office back. Be respectful but authentic, tell them you just made an appointment in three months and that you weren’t thinking clearly because of the news you had just received. Advocate for yourself by saying, “My condition has gotten progressively worse, and I am in a lot of pain. Are you sure there isn’t anything sooner?”

3. At the very least ask to be put on a cancellation list for a call if an opening comes up.

4. If you are still not satisfied, check to see if there are other specialists in the area and begin again.

I am sure there are other potential solutions, and I would encourage anyone with a positive suggestion to please help out by posting in the comment section below.

The point of this column is that it’s your life we are talking about here and you must take charge of it. It is especially important when it’s health related and even more so in the time of COVID as people are putting off visits to doctors’ offices and, in some circumstances, putting themselves in an even greater health risk situation by being “overly compliant.”

There are, of course, many other situations in life where one must consider the benefits to pushing the envelope, so to speak, and advocating for oneself.

It could be a business opportunity where you need a loan from a bank and time is of the essence. Perhaps you were rejected from a certain college or major or didn’t get a job interview that you knew was a great fit for the company. Are you willing to just give up when the answer is “no” or do you believe strongly enough in something that you are willing to advocate and be persistent? Author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar says to think of ethical and moral ways to “turn a ‘NO because,’ into a ‘YES if.’”

Can you think of a time in your life where being your own best advocate would have made a profound difference?

There was a time when I was a spring term junior at Penn State that I was encouraged by then Vice President of Student Affairs Ray Murphy to apply for membership in the Penn State Chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society. He believed that I met all of the qualifications so I was excited to see if I could earn membership in the organization.  

Turns out there was an GPA requirement for membership, and my transcripts showed I was just shy by .05 grade point. A class in which I received an A that I had taken by correspondence (that used snail mail way before online courses were a thing) had not yet been recorded. Back in 1981 we didn’t quite have the speed of today’s computers, and when I called the registrar’s office to update my GPA, I was told there was nothing they could do until my official grade was received from my professor.

I tried desperately to contact my professor before the deadline for my application to ODK was due but to no avail. My professor lived in Harrisburg and because there was no email or texting in those days, it meant all I could do was keep trying his land line, and not everyone had answering machines in those days. I was getting desperate as the deadline approached. Sure, this wasn’t a life-or-death health issue, but think about the missed opportunities of being in an organization of leaders from across the campus, not to mention how that would look on a resume!

It was a moment of truth for me. It would have been easy to just throw in the towel. I was the incoming president of the Penn State Hockey Club, so I went to the director of club sports, Vance McCullough, for some advice.  He suggested that I go see the organization’s faculty advisor, legendary Accounting 101 professor G.K. Nelson, and explain my circumstances and to see if he would grant me provisional acceptance into the organization pending verification of my updated GPA.  

It worked! My application was accepted, and I was not only voted in, but also voted vice president my senior year. I was fortunate enough to attend the ODK National Convention in the spring of 1982 in Lexington, Kentucky, along with Professor Nelson. It was at the convention that I heard, and met in person, one of the top motivational speakers and authors of the day, Dr. David Schwartz.  He wrote the best-selling book “The Magic of Thinking Big,” that I still have, is still in publication today and has sold over 6 million copies. That experience changed my life forever and it would not have ever occurred without being my own advocate and going above and beyond.

Thankfully, I had the courage and good sense to seek out the assistance of Vance McCullough. He and I would become great friends over the years, and he was influential in so many aspects of my life and career. Little did I know at the time that his advice to visit Professor Nelson would give me the confidence to advocate for myself for selection in ODK. It was these series of events that led to so many great experiences including reading Dr. Schwartz’ book, which I still recommend today, and was influential in my decision to become a motivational speaker and to write my own book.

The next time a great opportunity comes your way, or a serious issue needs an extra effort to be resolved, make sure that you are the best advocate for yourself and others.