From personal experience, I know just how long it can take to find a really good doctor. When I say really good, I mean one who’ll not only listen, pass the tissues and nod sympathetically in all the right places but also act on what you say and actually get something done.
Whether you’re at the local surgery or in presence of the lesser-spotted and rarely sighted rheumatologist, I find that half the time, these medically trained mortals are an impatient bunch. They sit, stopwatch in hand waiting to shoo you back out the door as soon as your allocated time slot is up.
As it is, I aways feel like a raving hypochondriac, as I hurriedly work through my pre-prepared lengthy list of ‘new’ symptoms. During most appointments, no matter how fast I talk, I barely manage to get past the ‘Top 3 things I absolutely need to ask’. My handbag is now full of crumpled up old scraps of paper covered in unanswered questions and angry-looking doodles.
I often walk away from appointments feeling irritated and let down. I rarely feel any more clued up (on why I feel so shit) than before I went in. Many times I’ve been in floods of tears by the time I’ve reached the car; on one embarrassing occasion, I didn’t even make it to the parking ticket machine before the snivelling began.
I had assumed that once my Lupus had been diagnosed, the whole doctor situation would improve. Back then I still had the optimism of course.
My first rheumatologist was absolutely useless. Perfectly sweet and highly qualified she may well have been, but with all the personality of a bag of limp lettuce. More worryingly, it seemed to me that she had little idea what to do regarding my treatment, and no obvious intentions of coming up with a plan anytime soon.
Every six months I’d return to her office and list the same issues and complaints; problems which were, unsurprisingly, getting worse with every visit. Her response was always the same: she’d mutter and mumble about my bloods and tell me she ‘understood’. Now, ‘nicey-nicey’ isn’t really my bag at the best of times; certainly not when I’m looking for some decisive medical intervention.
The extent of her ‘treatment’ was recommending that I ‘stretch out’ the crippling pain in my hips when it got too bad. Give me strength. I didn’t wait for over 2 hours on a suspiciously sticky waiting room chair (not to mention many years just to get the appointment) to be told that. If I could have fled the scene of the crime undetected, I would have throttled the useless woman then and there. Luckily for her, I calculated that with my pronounced limp, I’d have likely been apprehended before I even made it as far as the nurses’ station.
When the stretching didn’t fix the pain (no medical degree needed to realise that one, Sherlock) she sent me off for a six-week ‘getting back on your feet’ physiotherapy course at the local
old people’s home hospital. Dear god in heaven, what a truly hideous experience that turned out to be. I was easily the youngest in the room by at least 40 years, yet still the only one unable to lift my legs up off the mat on command. Pain and humiliation in one.
It was only when I mentioned to my Lupus nurse that I wasn’t exactly ‘enamoured’ with my allocated rheumatologist, that she told me I could request a transfer via my GP. I hadn’t even known that was an option. She recommended I try a different, slightly more pro-active doctor in the department i.e. one with less small talk and hand wringing and more ‘jump to it’ action.
A couple of months later I rocked up to see my new rheumatologist. He promptly sent me off for an MRI, which in turn confirmed I had massively inflamed and swollen hip joints and a spattering of arthritis to boot. Clearly, no amount of gentle stretching or cycle classes for the over seventies was going to sort that out.
A few short weeks later I was sent for a cortisone injection into each hip; a week after that I was practically pain-free and could finally walk again. Halla-bloody-lullah.
That’s not to say the current rheumatologist is perfect of course, far from it really. To this day I have still to get through my list. And I often walk out frustrated and on the verge of tears. But I guess the important thing I have to remember is that at least I can walk out now. If I’d stuck with my first rheumatologist I’d probably still be ‘stretching it out’.