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close this bookWhere Women Have No Doctor - A Health Guide for Women (Hesperian Foundation, 1997, 600 p.)
close this folderChapter 3: The Medical System
close this folderHow to Get Better Care
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentKnow what to expect
View the documentBring a friend or family member

Know what to expect

You will be best able to take an active role in your health if you are prepared and know what to expect when you seek medical care.

Questions about your health

It is best to learn as much as you can about your health problem before you use the medical system. Reading this book may help you understand your health problem and the possible causes. For help thinking about health problems, see “Solving Health Problems.”

The doctor, nurse, or health worker who sees you should ask about the problem you are having now and about your past health. Try to give complete information, even if you feel uncomfortable, so that the person asking the questions can learn as much as possible about your health. Always tell about any medication you are taking, including aspirin or family planning methods.

¨ It often helps to think of the questions you want to ask before you go for medical care.

You should also have a chance to ask any questions you may have. It is very important to ask as many questions as you need to make a good decision about how to solve your health problem. If these questions have not already been answered, you may want to ask:


Many doctors and nurses may not be used to giving good information, or they may be busy and not take the time to answer your questions. Be respectful, but firm! They should answer your questions until you understand. If you do not understand, it is not because you are stupid, but because they are not explaining well.

The exam

In order to know what is wrong with you and how serious your problem is, you may need an examination. Most exams include looking at, listening to, and feeling the part of your body where the problem is. For most problems you need to undress only that part of your body. If you would feel more comfortable, ask a friend or female health care worker to be in the room with you during the exam.



Tests can give more information about a health problem. Many tests are done by taking a small amount of urine, stool, or coughed-up mucus and sending it to a laboratory. Or. a needle is used to take a small amount of blood from your finger or arm. Other common tests include:

· taking some fluid from your vagina to test for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

· scraping cells from the opening of your womb (cervix) to test for cancer. (This is called a Pap test.)

· taking tissue from a growth to test for cancer (biopsy).

· using X-rays or ultrasound to see inside your body. X-rays may be used to find broken bones, severe lung infections, and some cancers. Try not to be X-rayed during pregnancy. Ultrasound can be used during pregnancy to see the baby inside your womb. Neither of these tests causes any pain.

ultrasound machine

¨ X-rays ore safe if they are used properly. A lead apron should be used to protect your reproductive organs.

Before you have any test, discuss the cost. Ask the doctor, nurse, or health worker to explain what he or she will learn from the test, and what would happen if the test was not done.