A while ago, shortly after getting my new job, I got really sick. I was out of work for two weeks, going from Dr. to Dr. trying to figure out why every. single. thing. hurt. I lost ten pounds or so, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep.
Many of the doctors pointed out my weight as culprit. I pointed out people bigger than me can sleep and eat and don’t feel like their body is on fire and many slimmer than I am have the same symptoms as I do. So then they ran tests and said, “oh, blood sugar is high and blood pressure is high and you have diabetes and are just stressing out over it” and when I fought that they said “hey, you work in Medicine, you know people deny diabetes, that’s what you’re doing, and you’re freaking out.”
Ultimately I got medicine for a UTI, YI, and was told I might have had the summer flu at the same time. for the next three months I had problems with my female cycle. Oh, and another test of my A1C and another doctor told me I was pre-diabetic, so not quite diabetic but ‘close! so lose weight.’
During the scare of having full blown ‘omg, you’re going to lose your limbs if you don’t stop drinking soda’ diabetes (and yes, that was said to me) I was told to go get my eyes checked because SUGAR EATS THE RETINAS! OMG YOU CAN BE BLIND NOW AND NOT KNOW IT!
The doctor that I got sent too continued the scare tactics. There was a 45 minute wait to even be brought back to the exam room, and then I was told I was going to have eye drops. I don’t recall if I’d had them before, but I do recall telling him how nervous I was because of this whole ordeal. I had 45 minutes to freak out about everything. I was being told a lot of things. I told him I did need a new prescription because I wanted new glasses, but maybe not the eye drops. I was told that if I don’t do the drops, well then he won’t put it through insurance and I’ll have to pay 235$ so I need to do it. Then came the fun part.
“All it does is paralyze the eyes for up to 8 hours,” he said.
I was done. There was no way I was going to do that. Paralyze my eyes? I started to cry. My anxiety had hit it’s limit. We were now an hour past my appointment time and he was again being callous. I left, got the money I had pre-payed for my co-pay back, and went to the next doctor I had scheduled, like a dutiful(ish) patient, to have a biopsy of my female parts because OMG they were worried about the UTI/YI and now they decided a bacterial infection with no real proof for 2 out of the three. And that hurt like hell, too, with no results.
This is many months after that initial ordeal and I’ve been feeling fine. A bit worn out. That ordeal totally freaked me out but the initial sickness combined with it also sapped a lot of emotional strength so I haven’t been working out regularly like I used to do before it began. But I still need new glasses! So I made an appointment at my local Sears.
First off, the people running the waiting room were super friendly and came out from behind the desk to talk to me. Yes, it was less crowded than the first, but oh man- the guy working the desk was a huge cat freak, and upon seeing my cat shirt brought out his phone to show me pictures of his giant orange fuzzball, Brutus (who does claw him in the back). The doctor was running behind, but by 15 minutes.
This guy was older, but so friendly. For the first time ever the glaucoma test was done on the first try. When I commented on how that was a first for me, he joked that he’d been doing it for a while. When I asked questions he explained them and checked for understanding. He asked how I was doing. He talked to me like I was a human, not a petulant child. When I spoke of the diabetes scare he told me of how medicine has no idea about what causes diabetes in the first place and showed empathy about me going through that. He explained the eye drops process, but that first he would do an exam without it and see if it was necessary to do the drops. If it was, he could help me arrange a time and way to make it comfortable for me.
Oh My God. I didn’t realize it could go well, not after the last time. I was burned, and here he was being so nice and explaining along the way everything about what may happen with my age (I’m at the time when I start having to move things away from me to read them, or take off my glasses and he said it’s not bad yet, but showing).
Part of the workshops I run with my students in health care programs (Medical school, nursing, social work, pharmacy, etc.) involve having patients and students sit down to write about times they’ve had illness, at the same table, eating the same meal, and talking about illness. It’s struck me how uncomfortable it makes students to talk about times when they were sick, even while the patients are saying, “I like when my doctor acknowledges sickness happens to them.” One patient wrote a story about how it was the waiting room and front desk reception people who made him feel welcome enough to know that he could get well there. This often leads to many questions about the importance of the doctor, which he addresses in his story (the doctor is 15 minutes of interaction, the waiting room and reception desk actually do the work and where his time is spent) and again – WOW. It seems so new to learn that they are not the center of the patient’s health, that the patient wants them to be human and come off the pedestal of perfect health. As much as we talk about patient-centered care, it’s easy enough to see it’s not sinking in because of so much hierarchy and patriarchy in the field.
I do use my own life a lot in the workshops, and this situation with the two eye doctors ended up being a perfect example. I was made to feel welcome and heard throughout, and because of it, got a full comprehensive exam. I’m not afraid to go there. I’ll be compliant and trust this place.
My other doctors? I’m waiting until I can choose a new health insurance before I see a doctor again, and will try a new system because the one I was in did not work.