Why being called a medical “enigma” or “puzzle” is not helpful

A few days ago I was talking to a friend of mine (who also blogs and can be found at
https://danonwheels.wordpress.com/) and we got onto the subject of doctors, I had had a particularly unhelpful doctors appointment where 95% of my issues and concerns had been dismissed as something that she couldn’t do anything about, now I’m not saying that my GP isn’t good as she is but as usual my complex medical conditions leave her (like me) with nowhere else to turn to get help. Now while this is more than a little annoying it seems it is a regular occurrence, not just for me but for pretty much every other disabled person I know. We were discussing this further and the term “medical enigma” and medical “puzzle” came into it, both of us have heard this on many many occasions, and on those many occasions we had come to the same conclusion………..this is both annoying and not particularly helpful. So what does this term mean?

The dictionary definition of Enigma is……

something that is mysterious and seems impossible to understand completely:
She is something of an enigma.
The newspapers were full of stories about the enigma of the plane’s disappearance.

It makes it sound like being a medical enigma must be a mysterious and wonderful thing, and Dr’s and especially specialists seem to give it out like a badge of honour. But it is far from that, who really wants to have a medical condition that “seems impossible to understand completely” you want to be understood, you want the doctor to understand, you want to be listened to and you want to be helped.

Now I know that Doctors and specialists are not miracle workers, our bodies are hugely complex machines which no one can completely understand. But while that is true it is also true that when you go to a doctor or a specialist you want to get diagnosed, for them to tell you what is wrong with you and how they can treat it. As I’ve explained to you before now I’ve had my share of bad appointments and bad consultants, I’ve been told that I’ve been making things up or that the things are totally in my head but the “medical enigma” or puzzle badge is something that you seem to get when the doctor cannot diagnose you but doesn’t or can’t call you a liar because of the evidence in front of them that you have gathered. But being told this, being called an “enigma” comes with it a halt in investigations. They stop looking into other causes, stop referring you on, with this badge comes a halt to everything. You are an “enigma” we cannot diagnose you, we do not know what is wrong and therefore we are giving up. We are going to stop. It is that attitude that makes this badge the most frustrating one to receive. It means that you will hear it more and more, from more medical professionals too (in my experience anyway) you cannot be treated and we don’t know what else to do.

So while the term “medical enigma” might sound rather cool and mysterious, it comes with it frustration and disappointment for the person receiving it. It isn’t cool and mysterious, it seems to me that it is a white flag. It is a white flag, you are being given up on and we have no idea what else to do with you. Your body is broken, but we cannot fix it!

7 thoughts on “Why being called a medical “enigma” or “puzzle” is not helpful

  1. It’s almost as if clinicians are afraid of admitting they don’t know, they don’t have an answer, so dress it up in language.

    Shout out to all the enigmas out there,

  2. This reminded me of when my partner was in Intensive Care and a nurse said to me, jokingly, that in his 20 years of working he had never seen a case like this before. It wasn’t helpful. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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