Image Source: http://www.clipartsheep.com
Years ago, I needed a new doctor for my now misdiagnosis and I found a specialist for that syndrome, which was odd for this city. He was a PM&R physician and did a very thorough exam, but somehow was yet another provider who failed to realize that I actually had a genetic disorder: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, classical type (EDS).
I remember that at my first consultation and after my exam, he told me straight out that he had no magic pill for me, but that what he could offer was compassionate care. It was what I—a patient with a chronic, painful, and debilitating illness—needed to hear, even if he thought I had something else.
No one knows what happened, but a year later, all of his patients received a letter stating that the doctor would no longer be in practice there. No other information would be given and I was transferred to an associate, but that was the first time I had a complete meltdown over losing a healthcare provider.
Prior to getting sick, I just had the doctors most have and maybe saw them 6 times a year for annual exams, refills of a few medications I took, and then the endless upper respiratory infections I’d get from every cold, which only turned into massive bronchitis because I was too busy working to go to the doctor. But, things change when you get a chronic illness. I now have more than 20 medications, I have over 10 specialists who largely do nothing for me, and I spend 3 or 4 days a week in some waiting room, which literally makes me sicker. When healthcare providers become your entire life, and not by choice, losing one is utterly devastating as the process of finding another and dealing with records and forms I can’t see and every other hurdle you have to jump over in the U.S. is an utter nightmare.
I have been to 4 doctors for my EDS, formerly called something else, since I lost the one who disappeared and then the entire practice closed. They were all inept or rude or left me waiting hour upon hour or all of the above. One, who I absolutely believe was an anti-Semite based on his country of origin and how friendly he was with everyone but me, actually said something so rude to me that a tear fell down my cheek in the exam room, and I wish with all my might that he had never seen that.
Right before my corneal surgery and my diagnosis of EDS last year, I found another PM&R who was willing to see me, as most weren’t interested in the misdiagnosis. I had come from a rundown and horribly unprofessional practice where my doctor literally walked out the front door while I was waiting for him. I really didn’t know him as he spent maybe 2 minutes with me signing prescriptions and nothing else. The staff were rude and complacent and I was months behind in scripts for physical therapy and they could care less.
I knew this new doctor I had was smart and he actually questioned my misdiagnosis, but he seemed rather uncaring and disinterested by my second appointment like the others. I couldn’t see him well, but noted that he preferred to stand on the opposite side of the room and wouldn’t make eye contact with me as I can see color, like the sclera of the eyes. If he has a social phobia, then he should have gone into research and not private practice. It was a place to get my refills and scripts for physical therapy, which is how I view most providers in my life: robotic people who do the basics of their job while I get an extended stay at the Hanoi Hilton courtesy of my broken-down body.
One day, I was told I’d be seeing the nurse as the doctor was busy. Well, that figured. Unlike the doctor, his nurse was actually a person and she was friendly and talked and asked questions and was concerned. So, I became her patient and didn’t see the doctor anymore. I always took the last appointment since I can’t wake up and am really slow to get ready due to my pain and stiffness, and she would spend over 30 minutes with me and it felt like I finally wasn’t just a number or a nuisance anymore.
We tried a few other medications without much success as usual, she attempted to appeal the insurance issue with my physical therapy being cut-off, she was researching EDS as fast as I was, and since she was from Ohio, she always said she wished she could just stick me on a plane and send me to the Cleveland Clinic because she was so frustrated, and not by me, but for me. I always left my appointment feeling better, even if there was no magic pill. I had compassionate care again.
I’m on a 3-month schedule with the practice now and I had an appointment earlier this week. There was a huge plumbing issue with the central line that affected my bathroom here at the motel, so I was running a hair late, but had enough time to get to my appointment if I drove fast and everyone does. I get that I can’t see well, but I can drive better than the 20/20 crowd here and had my sclerals in, with enough lubricating ointment to make them somewhat tolerable, but it was like someone smeared Vaseline over the windshield. The clinic is in a nearby town, so it’s a bit of a drive, but I can do it if I really try since it’s not in the direction of the sun. What I didn’t expect was an accident on the arterial that leads to the freeway that created a backup for miles.
I called the clinic to let them know I’d be late due to the accident, but not more than 10 minutes, as everyone gives you a 10-minute grace period from my experience. I was told that the doctor had to leave to meet with his lawyers and so I would have to reschedule. I didn’t understand and had about gone through the wringer waking up earlier and getting ready and just driving. I explained that I didn’t see the doctor—that I saw his nurse and I’d never been late.
It was then that the rude receptionist told me she was no longer at the practice. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and she made up a lie as to why she was gone. I knew I needed refills soon, so I was pleading with her, and she told me that I was talking in circles. I just kept trying to be the squeaky wheel, but could hear my voice cracking and then hung up. I was by a shopping center, so I pulled into the parking lot and just lost it.
How would I find my nurse? Who could I talk to that would understand how complex chronic illness is? Who would offer me compassionate care? Certainly not anyone I currently see and not the doctor there. My counselor, who is supposed to help me, has been putting me through the Inquisition for weeks and I rip the cuticle off my thumb in every session from the anxiety he’s causing me. I felt abandoned, like I have felt my entire life. The feelings about the former doctor disappearing came flooding back, as did everyone else in my life who had betrayed me: my family, my traitorous, best friends, the guys I had been with, the entire world.
I’m tired of this disease and the subsequent vision loss. It’s been 12 years and there’s no hope. The cure is not coming in my lifetime and the degeneration will continue—that much I know. A million thoughts were flooding my mind and I went to a very dark place while sitting in my car, which is not uncommon—I’ve had enough and there is no meaning in my endless suffering. I couldn’t breathe and was on the verge of having one of my major panic attacks. I called the only person I know here—the one who gives me rides here and there—and asked that he take my cat, Moush Moush, but he wouldn’t. I was begging him to take her to no avail and in the end, it was Moush Moush who saved me again, just like I am trying to do for her. I promised her that I’d never leave her, and I won’t.
Very few people will understand this post. A healthcare provider is someone most see for an infection or an injury or an acute condition that will either get better or kill you. There’s a gray area where those with chronic illnesses that steal your entire life live, and that’s my land. I have staked a claim and it’s a lonely place that hurts my body and my mind. My nurse brought more light in, but now she is gone, like so many before her.