Some doctors, even good doctors, may resist referring you to a consultant.

They may resist for what seems to them a good reason, telling you, "Your condition and the treatment seem obvious. You really need not go to extra trouble and expense."

But some physicians almost seem to anticipate the subject. They discourage any questions and any discussion of getting a second opinion.

"Every physician sometimes worries, 'Would this patient be better off seeing someone else?' " says Dr. Judah Folkman of Boston's Children's Hospital Medical Center.

"One problem is, a physician often has his own human vanity. He asks himself, would referring a patient signify my own lack of knowledge? To be a surgeon, for example, one has to have an enormous ego just to get through all you have to get through -- doing operations, handling emergencies, being up all night with a patient. Once you have that ego, it becomes hard to say sometimes, 'The patient needs a better surgeon.' "

The answer for us patients? We have to find a personal doctor -- "one you can really trust to either take care of you," Folkman reminds us, "or, when over his head or beyond his range, find the appropriate help."

There is really no other way.