Just What The Doctor Ordered . . . Or Not

I fear big red warning notes may be attached to my files in several medical offices these days to alert the staff they are dealing with a difficult patient.

Consider my dentist's office, which I diligently visit twice annually for a dental cleaning, as does the rest of my family. Every time, the hygienist advises it's time for my annual X-rays and I remind her I will be declining her lovely offer due to concerns over radiation. I then suggest she repeat this request to me and my children in about five years, or maybe never.

This doesn’t go over well with the otherwise perky dental hygienists. But my radiation fears are well-known (weren't the Russians going to kill us with it?) to those who made fun of me during  the years I refused to own a microwave oven or a cell phone -- although in the interest of full disclosure, I confess to finally surrendering to the convenience of both.

But not to annual dental X-rays. Think about it: If the dentist sees a cavity developing from the X-rays, it can’t be filled until it reaches the surface anyway, right? I have no intention of absorbing extra radiation just to give the dentist an early warning system -- and a few extra bucks in the bank account. This attitude is not warmly embraced at my dental office.

However, I felt vindicated when the former president of the American Cancer Society said on TV that she won't have dental X-rays either because of radiation concerns. She made the comment in the context of a report on the burgeoning thyroid cancer rate in this country -- with 75 percent of the cases involving women. And what causes thyroid cancer? Too much radiation.

Although all the medical professionals on the TV program were reluctant to point a finger at a particular source, it's pretty easy to figure out where women receive more radiation then men --mammograms. These doctors weren't telling women not to get mammograms, noting their ability to reveal cancer, but they noted radiation into the breast "scatters" -- as it does from dental X-rays -- into other parts of the body. They recommended requesting lead aprons that include a piece to cover the thyroid any time you undergo any type of X-ray. That seems reasonable, especially if you enjoy annual dental bite-wing X-rays.

Another place where my medical file likely has a warning label is the eye doctor's office, the target of numerous telephone calls and visits in my quest to use contacts. When I lost another one, the lens was on back order so I returned to glasses, which didn’t seem to be working as well as before. In fact, some days my vision was better without them.

Five days after I lost the lens, I rubbed my eye and you guessed it -- out came the missing contact. I couldn't stop laughing because I know I removed a contact from that same eye five days earlier. This meant either I had inserted two contacts in one eye OR didn’t realize the one removed from left eye was still on my finger and got left behind while removing the contact from the right one. This also explained why my eyesight was blurry with glasses.

At my next visit, the optometrist’s eyebrows inched progressively higher as he read the million notes in my chart recorded by his staff after each of my calls. When I told him about the double-contacts experience, he calmly replied the process takes time for adjustment.

"But how do you adjust for operator error?" I asked. He laughed, assuring me the record was held by a guy who inserted three contacts, one on top of the other, in the same eye. I think the doctor might have been lying but it made me feel better.

And, as far as I can tell, there was no radiation involved, either.

(Editor's Note:  How safe are X-Rays? and Why is Radiation So Dangerous?)

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