Today I wanted to discuss the Netflix docuseries, “Diagnosis,” that I recently watched (okay, binge-watched because who does anything anyway else anymore?). For those of you who haven’t watched the show yet, it follows Dr. Lisa Sanders as she attempts to help different people in the US figure out their undiagnosed medical conditions. When we say undiagnosed conditions, it’s on the side of “mysteries” or rare conditions that are not easily diagnosable. She uses Social Media to engage people from around the globe in attempting to solve these mysteries and help the doctors of these patients, as well as the patients themselves, get a diagnosis. What struck me about the show is the two major themes it uncovered (whether intentionally or not).
Theme 1: The feeling of hopelessness when you don’t have a diagnosis.
Some conditions are easy to diagnosis. Even serious illnesses, if they are common enough, or specific tests have been developed, and GPs know what specialists to refer you to, can be diagnosed without long wait times. Other illnesses, things like autoimmune diseases which mimic each other, or very rare ones, can take a lot longer. Everyone who has had to wait knows what I’m talking about when I talk about the feeling of hopelessness that accompanies the waiting. Will I ever get a diagnosis? What is wrong with me? How can it be fixed if we don’t know what it is? Even my diagnosis of lupus is only tentative. The doctors don’t have a better explanation for my symptoms, but at the same time I don’t have enough symptoms for a confirmed diagnosis. Though I definitely feel less in limbo than most of the people on this show, I definitely understand the emotional toll it can take on a person. It’s hard to wrestle with, and in this case, hard to watch, as you are rooting for a diagnosis, regardless of what it is, because at least then they can go from there.
Theme 2: mistrust of the medical system.
Two episodes in particular emphasized the mistrust of doctors. Mistrust can come from a variety of sources. Misdiagnosis is easily one that can garner mistrust. I trust GPs much less after my previous one told me there is no way I could have lupus and instead must have gout. To which my rheumatologist ended up saying it was impossible that I had gout, and much more likely that I had lupus. In Episode 5 of the show, a 17-year-old girl and her parents have such mistrust of doctors based on one or two bad interactions that they dismiss a likely diagnosis because they have their own theories (none of which can be corroborated by science). In Episode 7, a woman has difficulty trusting doctors because she feels dismissed as a Black woman. Woman have historically been treated differently than men when it comes to medical concerns, and African Americans have been treated differently than European Americans, so it is easy to understand where she is coming from (in the end she is much more trusting than the patient from Episode 5).
Image from: YouTube (see link above)
Overall, I found the show interesting and would definitely watch another season if they were to do one. Most people will never find themselves in the position that these people are in, but most of us also will face some kind of serious or chronic illness in our lifetimes so we should all be able to empathize with each other’s unique situations.