Melissa Saganich, OMS I, with her sister Jessica.
In your words

He told my sister her seizures and migraines were ‘made up’

I chose to become a physician because I wanted to become the type of doctor my sister needed.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Facebook following a NOM Week prompt and is republished here with permission. It has been edited for The DO. This is an opinion piece; the views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

My sister Jessica is a warrior. Not in the Hollywood, girl beats up all the bad guys way, but in the human way. In every meaning of the word. She is a warrior.

I decided in high school that I wanted to pursue medicine. The spark that drove me to this was my sister getting sick. When I was a freshman in high school, my sister got so sick, she was taken out of school and didn’t leave the house unless it was for doctors’ appointments. This lasted, as I remember, six months. During those six months, my sister visited numerous doctors, going to Atlanta, Vanderbilt … neurologist, physiologist. You name it, she saw them. Every doctor’s appointment lead to more unanswered questions.

There were two major things I remember during this time: how our family doctor, Wendy May, MD, handled this difficult case, and a neurologist my sister visited. I don’t know the name of this doctor. I don’t remember where this doctor practices. But what I do remember is my sister leaving an appointment with this doctor bawling.

‘Hysterical’

She was hysterical because this doctor had told my sister that there was nothing wrong with her. Her seizures. Her migraines. They weren’t real, they were simply something my sister made up. This was the doctor’s solution to a difficult and puzzling question. There wasn’t a problem to begin with. It was all made up in this little seventh-grader’s mind.

I’ll touch on the long-term consequences that meeting had later.

This made my blood boil. It’s hard to see someone you love so dearly so upset.

I don’t have strong opinions on many things. I am very much someone who likes to mix logic and emotion into every situation. I want to know the best solution, while also taking into consideration other feelings and situations as well. That being said, I very strongly believe that the role of a doctor, no matter what specialty they are in, is to do the absolute best they can for their patients.

Soon after the above incident occurred, I decided that I was going to become a physician and be the doctor my sister needed. Because I knew that there were others out there who had experienced the same thing. And the thought of that boiled my naive little 14-year-old blood.

Introduced to osteopathic medicine

Flash forward and I’m accepted into Lincoln Memorial University, which very conveniently has Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine on its campus. This was my first exposure to osteopathic medicine. Before this time, I had never heard of a DO. I wasn’t aware that there was more than one type of degree for physicians.

It wasn’t right away that I latched onto the osteopathic philosophy. I was unsure. I still didn’t understand the difference. I wasn’t aware of what osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) was. All I knew at this point was that there were two options to become a doctor. You could go to an MD school or a DO school. And either path led you to become a licensed practicing physician. Cool. Options.

Then I learned more.

I learned about what OMM was, this extra technique that osteopathic students learn alongside everything their fellow MD students are learning. I learned that OMM allows DOs to treat some issues in office. With their hands. No medicine required. That sparked my interest. Big time.

Finding the root cause

I learned that DOs are taught to view the body as a whole, a large interconnected body of moving parts. This stresses that one problem in one area of the body can have a substantial effect on other areas of the body. This approach urges the physician to find the underlying cause. One of my professors loves to say [and I’m paraphrasing here] if you don’t treat the cause of the discomfort, it will just come back.

I’m learning about mind and spirit. Have you ever heard about what stress can do to you? Everything. It seems like stress can cause anything and everything. Stress is an emotional response to a situation. There’s not a set way to measure this.

I’m still learning more. And I’m falling in love with the profession with each new discovery.

The dean of my school, Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Carolinas, likes to tell us that he doesn’t want us to learn how to check off the right boxes. He wants us to become good physicians. I want to become a good physician.

  • I want to become the doctor my sister needed all those years ago.
  • A doctor that would make Dr. May proud.
  • A physician who cares about a person as a whole. Their mind. Their body. Their spirit.

A lasting impact

Let’s go back to my sister for a moment. I hinted that her meeting with that one particular neurologist had a lasting impact. Sadly, my sister believes that when she gets sick or gets injured in some way, that it’s not real. She ‘just made it up.’ This one doctor isn’t the only doctor who has not taken her seriously. Or brushed off her concerns. There have been instances this year of that happening to her.

Unfortunately, we have never discovered the cause of her migraines and seizures. The seizures eventually stopped, but she still deals with the migraines.

The art of listening

In osteopathic medical school, I’ve learned to listen to my patients. I’ve learned that the answers are hardly cut and dry. I’ve learned that medicine is individualized. And while all this makes studying for a test extremely frustrating, it’s also encouraging.

Every one of my professors who are also practicing medicine has told my class to ‘listen to your patients.’ They stress forming that doctor-patient relationship and trust. Which means I must be trustworthy. I need to be someone others can turn to.

I didn’t know what a DO was until I was in college. My family didn’t know what a DO truly was until I started applying and learning more. Not all of my friends fully know what a DO is.

It’s OK not to know. We can’t know everything, right? But I hope that this explains a little bit more about what a DO is, and what type of doctor I’m trying to become.

Related reading:

How DOs and med students across the country are celebrating NOM Week 2020

1 comment

  1. This was an important thing to share. Many of us have interesting and profound reasons we went into medicine. Mine was the incredible support and dedication that many physicians had for me after a terrible accident. I’m sorry that yours was a much sadder and frustrating motivation.

    I too am a DO and I’m glad I went that route. Most physicians care deeply about their patients but it seemed to me that osteopathic training really stressed the importance. After years of practicing in emergency medicine, I’m embarrassed to admit that I too became jaded occasionally. I’ll never forget a patient who came into the emergency department occasionally with her seizures. We never saw any evidence of them and we knew she’d had normal EEGs so we became skeptical.

    Now many years later I have developed epilepsy. I had to retire from practice because of them. I also have never had abnormal EEG findings but I have been diagnosed with complex partial seizures determined to be temporal lobe epilepsy. I have occasionally wondered if I would be treated similar to your sister if I went to the ER for my seizures since they are atypical. Doctors need to be reminded that a lack of evidence or understanding doesn’t rule out a diagnosis.

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