The Fluidity of Health Literacy

March 17, 2017

A couple of weeks ago, I went to an alumni event hosted by my high school. While there, I had a discussion about what I do, my interests. All of the typical stuff that you talk about with a person you haven't seen in years. We got to talking about health literacy and what it means. He pointed out what is a common misconception about the name health literacy. It is not a problem that solely affects people who have low overall literacy skills. It can affect the most educated among us.

 

Let me share an example from my life:

 

As I have shared before, when I was 18, I was diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). The first line of treatment for PCOS is birth control, one with hormones to specifically help regulate the hormones that are out of whack in our system. In the spring of 2015, I went in for my annual well woman's appointment. They took my blood pressure and it was high. I don't remember what it was, but I do remember being surprised by how high it was. I've always had good blood pressure, generally coming in right at 120/79. The nurse who was seeing me freaked out. I think she was ready to send me to the ER. I explained to her why my BP was likely high: I had just found out that my grandmother had breast cancer, which worried me because a few years before I had to watch my other grandma die from it. Needless to say, I was a little bit stressed walking into that appointment. (Thankfully, my grandmother caught the cancer early and is doing quite well. Regular screening is SO IMPORTANT y'all, but we'll discuss that on another day).

 

The nurse kept asking me if I had a headache or was lightheaded, I kept explaining to her that I was fine, just concerned about my grandma. She insisted that I had to change my birth control to one without hormones. I said that I didn't think that was a good idea, didn't I need the hormones because of the PCOS? I would have preferred that we monitor my blood pressure rather than outright changing my prescription. I explained to her that because I did not feel sick and because I was just having a bad day, that I felt this was a better course of action. She did not listen. 

 

I was tired y'all. I was tired and stressed. I didn't feel like arguing with this lady or asking anymore questions. I didn't have the energy to advocate for myself, even though I knew that my prescription should not have been changed. So I gave in, and I let her change it. And it was a disaster.

 

I spent the next several months dealing with the worst acne I had ever had in my life. My self esteem was shot. Plus my cycle become irregular and unpredictable. I was miserable. 

 

Finally, I'd had enough, I went back to the doctor and insisted on seeing someone different. He confirmed what I knew. I should not have been put on the non-hormonal drug. He changed my prescription and my acne immediately cleared up, my cycle got back to normal and I started feeling better.

Health Literacy is fluid. Those of us who are normally proficient in health literacy can find ourselves in moments where we are unable to advocate for ourselves or understand the information being presented to us. There are many reasons why this can happen, it may just be an issue we are unfamiliar with. It may be that we are in pain or too stressed to concentrate. Maybe we are tired or upset. 

 

In those moments it becomes very important to have a plan. Take someone with you to your appointment if possible. Don't make any decisions in haste. In my case, I could've asked to speak with a different doctor that day or called back after I was able to process everything that happened. As always, listen to you body. I knew that I wasn't sick and that I was just stressed in the moment. I should never have let the appointment go the way that it did. Thankfully I did not have any serious side effects from the medicine change, but I can only imagine how much worse that could have turned out.  

Have you ever had a moment when you weren't very health literate? Have you ever had a time when you were able to advocate for yourself really well? Share a comment below and subscribe for updates.

 Improving our health literacy so that we all may live healthier, more abundant lives.

 

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