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Second Opinions

Posted By Mark Sisson On January 2, 2009 @ 10:15 am In Health | 26 Comments

Sometimes I just think the world is collapsing under the weight of its own complexity. My water bill last month was twice its usual already-outrageous amount. Since we hadn’t (to my knowledge) taken any more showers than normal, I figured there had to be a leak somewhere. Duh, right? I did a cursory review of all toilets and faucets in the house. Nothing. I had my gardeners check out the landscape irrigation system. Nothing. So I called my plumber/golf buddy Ted who said he had a guy who did leak detection and this guy was the best there is. Twenty years in the business and that’s all he does. Leaks. So I told Ted to send him on over, because this hydro-hemorhhage was mounting up fast.

Twenty minutes later the guy shows up and immediately starts diagnosing. He turns off the main valve at the house and sees that the meter wheel stops spinning, so he figures since it’s not between the meter and the house, it has to be inside the house. That’s bad.

He goes to his truck and gets a bunch of fancy detection devices all neatly stored in separate anvil cases. One looks like a stethoscope; another like a fancier version of those metal detectors they use down at the beach to find spare change. He tells me, “Don’t worry, I’ll find that sucker. I do this all the time.” Loved his bedside manner. Miraculously, after listening to all the sink pipes on the ground floor, he determines that the leak is in the hot water system – definitely not the cold – and that it’s somewhere in the slab under the house. That’s bad.

After twenty minutes of further dousing for pipes under the slab and listening through his high-tech stethoscope, he assures me he has found the leak. It’s definitely “right here in the slab under the dryer but just beneath this bearing wall. We’ll have to jack-hammer up all your matching [expensive] travertine tile, remove the wall, reinforce it and replumb all the way to the water heater to be sure.” That’s REALLY bad. I ask, “you sure about this?” He looks at me like I’m an idiot and says, “Absolutely. This is all I do all day long. It’s right under here.” OK.

He leaves me with a bill for $300 and drives off. Nice work for 45 minutes. I didn’t make that even when I was a “trainer to the stars.”

I’m about to call plumber/golf buddy Ted and tell him to bring the crew and the jack-hammers over on Monday when I get a wild one and decide maybe I’ll get a second opinion first. I call another leak detecting service from the Yellow Pages who sends a guy right over. He gets out a similar assortment of detection equipment and spends 25 minutes putting blue tape all over the floor to mark where the pipes are before I suggest (wink, wink) that maybe it’s in the hot water system. Another 25 minutes passes and he says, “there’s no freakin’ way there’s a leak in your hot water system or inside your house. Have you checked your pool auto-fill valve?” “uh, no.” “Let’s look.” Sure enough, the autofill valve (it’s like the one in your toilet) was stuck, causing water to flow into our infinity pool which was, in turn, leaking water infinitely through an obscured underground drainpipe. Case closed. Since this guy wasn’t “the best in the business,” he only charged $250.

I tell you all this as an illustration of how easy it is to become enamored of “specialists” and “professionals” in a world that has grown increasingly complex. I could easily have gone and had my entire kitchen floor jack-hammered at great expense and disruption only to have the initial problem continue to drive me crazy for months. I find that this happens all too often in many other areas (tech support from Mumbai that has you defragging your disc or reinstalling your operating system when a patch or reboot would have done), but most notably in medicine. How often do we all hear stories of expensive surgeries undertaken because a battery of tests (that weren’t that solid to begin with) “indicated” that there was a problem that needed fixing? Many prophylactic mastectomies or prostate biopsies or quadruple bypasses are probably not necessary (in my humble opinion). Yet they can severely compromise lives forever if they really weren’t necessary or if a few lifestyle interventions might have done a much better trick. How about the prescribing of multiple drugs to address symptoms or bring a few “out-of-norm” numbers back into the proper range? And then prescribing additional drugs to offset the side-effects of the first drugs – all based on sketchy diagnoses. My knee surgery last year would not have been necessary had my doctor not hastily shot cortisone under my kneecap. Long story. But, hey, he only had seven minutes of office visit time to make the (wrong) diagnosis and, hey, he was my friend. Oh well, my bad. If anyone should have seen that coming it was me.

I tell anyone who will listen that lawyers, doctors and CPAs don’t have answers. They only have opinions and sometimes those opinions are no better (and often worse) than your own instincts. This is why we at MDA are on a mission to try to help you better understand how your body works, so you can make educated, informed decisions when it comes to matters of health. Armed with an understanding of what might truly be behind your problem, that little extra you pay for a second or even third opinion might just make the difference.

Further Reading:

My Knee is Killing Me… No Really.

Washboard Abs on a High Fat Diet, No Ab Workouts and No Cardio?

Health Engagment: Where Do You Find that Personal Touch? [7]


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