Sometimes I just can’t believe the personal details I put online. To be honest, I think that’s why I don’t work on this blog as often as My Sacroiliac Joint Saga. It’s super easy to provide people with factual information, with only a few personal tidbits thrown in.
This blog, though? This is the one I almost don’t want anyone to read. (Except not really, so keep reading!).
But I also know that what I put out there can help people– and it helps me, to know that I’m helping others.
So I thought I’d share with you why I decided to “fire” my primary care doctor, who I’ve been seeing for over ten years. This also means I’ll be leaving the medical practice I’ve literally been a patient at for my entire life (my Mom took me there when I was a baby).
As some of you know, I recently ended up in the emergency room fearing I had nerve damage, following what should have been a routine adjustment at the chiropractor. I’m lucky that it did not turn out to be permanent. However, the entire thing was incredibly stressful for me– I was in and out of two emergency rooms. I cried, I hyperventilated, I thought I was going to faint. I mean… imagine wondering if you were going to be walking like a drunk person for your entire life? My heart goes out to the people for whom this is permanent. I’d had no idea what it was like.
As you can imagine, this entire thing was incredibly stressful on my body. Normally my resting heart rate is fairly low (once a long-distance runner, always a long-distance runner!). But the stress and fear kept it soaring all weekend long. At one point, one of the nurses strongly suggested I take the anxiety medication they were offering me because, medically speaking, they wouldn’t be able to discharge me with my heart rate as high as it was.
And then, 24 hours after that, when I was still walking funny and not totally convinced I was going to recover, my period came.
And it wasn’t a normal period for me. I know that it’s common for some women to experience spotting or early periods due to stress, but it has literally never happened to me before. It didn’t feel like a normal period– this felt less like a gently flowing river, and more like an avalanche. I had cramps I’d never experienced before.
In retrospect, it probably would have made more sense for me to follow up with my OB-gyn’s office about this. But I was still sort of in panic mode, and not thinking clearly. So I went to my default option and called my primary doctor’s office. After all, that’s what my discharge instructions from the emergency room said to do.
And I could not believe how rude she was to me.
Normally, this doctor is very polite. She and I haven’t always seen eye to eye over the years, when it comes to things like fibromyalgia and central sensitization. My impression is that she doesn’t really know what central sensitization is– like many doctors I’ve met, it seems to be hard-wired into her brain that any symptoms of this sort have to be connected to mental health.
So she has said some things over the years that really irked me, or sounded skeptical when I described sacroiliac joint dysfunction.
However, at the same time, she never turned me down when I asked for a referral to see a specialist, or a physical therapist. My requests were always processed promptly, so I felt like our difference in perspectives wasn’t necessarily affecting the outcome of my care. (Because really, a primary care doctor isn’t the one I’d expect to have answers about central sensitization or SI joint dysfunction anyway).
But that day, I saw how our difference in philosophy could have life-altering implications.
Because we weren’t talking about musculoskeletal pain, we were actually talking about my reproductive system.
And she was totally dismissive. It turned out later she’d tried to send me a message telling me I should follow up with my OB-gyn, but at the same time, her staff members were calling me to try to set up a same-day appointment with her. So, reasonably, I expected that she wanted me to come in.
So I got into the room with her and told her I was concerned about this strange early period, as it was totally abnormal for me. I wanted to make sure that between the chiropractic adjustment and the potential nerve damage (which had not officially been ruled out) nothing weird was going on with my uterus.
And she looked at me like I had two heads. “You know your insurance is going to charge you a lot if I do a pelvic exam on you, right? Those are expensive.”
Her tone and her expression, though, were not out of concern. Instead, they seemed to be out of annoyance.
“The hospital discharged you for a reason. And you’re still worried?”
In my head, I thought Why is this woman not just examining me?
She continued, “You know, a pelvic exam isn’t really going to rule out everything that could be wrong with your uterus. For that, you really need an ultrasound” (which they weren’t going to be able to perform at her office).
We sort of stared at each other for a few seconds and finally, the ten years of being dismissed got to me.
I said, “You know, I have to be honest. I don’t really feel like you’re taking this seriously. I’m starting to feel like I shouldn’t have come here… why did you let me come here? You should have just told me to go straight to the OB-gyn for an ultrasound.”
That’s when she paused, and gulped. “I did tell you that… I sent you a message online telling you I thought that’s where you should follow up.”
Then she realized her mistake. She’d assumed that I’d seen her message, and decided to come in to her office anyway, like some paranoid hypochondriac who wanted to be seen in two places, when one would suffice. That’s why she was being so dismissive.
I felt the anger welling up inside me, but I’m proud of myself because I kept it classy. I said, “So, without the ultrasound, we don’t really know what’s wrong? So we can’t really say there’s nothing wrong with my uterus, can we?”
Embarrassed, she shook her head no.
And I’m telling you– I am so proud of myself for the way I handled this. I kept it polite, but we both knew how much in the wrong she was. I said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m going to call my OB-gyn right now, before they go home for the day. Because this is still potentially an emergency.”
And I literally took out my phone and called them right there, with her sitting in the exam room.
To be fair, although the doctor didn’t outright admit her mistake, she did apologize for “looking as though she wasn’t taking it seriously.” She did nod her head in agreement as I told the person at the OB-gyn’s office that this was potentially an emergency.
But I will be switching primary care doctors now, because this was just too much for me. A difference in philosophical outlook is one thing– but when it affects how my case is handled in a potential emergency situation, it’s time to move on.
After all this, I did end up speaking with the OB doctor who was on call that day– the same one who performed my surgery, actually– and she reassured me that there was nothing to worry about. That it was just due to stress, and that I wasn’t in enough pain for it to sound concerning. I ended up having an ultrasound anyway, in a non-emergency setting, and it turned out normal. So, everything did turn out okay.
But I will still be switching, because enough is enough. It’s taken me a long time, over the years, to believe in myself, and that I am worthy of respect. Ten years ago, I don’t know that I would have been brave enough, or composed enough, to handle this situation the way I did.
So, like so many things to come out of that horrible weekend, at least everything turned out alright in the end, and now I can see it as a learning experience. In a way, I suppose I am grateful for this, too.