Back in October, I saw an orthopedist for pain in my shoulder that was radiating up into my neck. He diagnosed a pinched nerve in my cervical spine. He ordered an MRI of my cervical spine. It did not show enough nerve impingement to explain my pain. But instead of doing an MRI of my shoulder, he instead chose to believe that I was exaggerating my pain, and decided that a couple of cortisone shots in my neck would relieve both him and me from having to see each other again.
The result of that choice has been an excruciating shoulder injury that has gone undiagnosed and untreated for going on nine months. Nine months of no improvement. Nine months of getting worse, instead of better. Nine months of my life, gone.
Suppose that the original doctor had chosen instead to believe me when I described my pain, and ordered an MRI of my right shoulder. He would have likely have discovered my shoulder damage and prescribed rest and physical therapy. If after about twelve weeks of physical therapy there had been no improvement, he would then have opted to perform arthroscopic surgery, let’s say in January. That means that by now, in July, in the worst-case scenario, I would be six months into recovery, in a lot less pain, and enjoying at least marginal, if not significant, improvements in strength and mobility.
But instead, I’m in excruciating and now worsening pain, just as injured (if not more so due to lack of treatment, and/or misguided manipulations by physical and massage therapists) as I was nine months ago, and still unable to get medical professionals to take me seriously when I tell them how much pain I’m in. And for extra fun, I’m still having to fend off suggestions from well-meaning people – some of them doctors – to try herbal tea and acupuncture and energy healing and other ineffectual woo for my symptoms, which now appear to be due to a strictly mechanical injury.
Am I angry? You’d better believe I’m angry. I’m considering suing the original doctor for sexual discrimination, not to mention malpractice, due to the pain, suffering, and loss of work hours that have occurred as a result of his dismissal of my symptoms. In fact, my overall treatment (if you could call it that) at the hands of the medical community has been infuriatingly impotent. I still have yet to locate a doctor who will take me at my word when I describe the location and severity of my pain and muscle weakness. If I hadn’t [finally] gotten a shoulder MRI, I’d still be at square one. Or rather, square zero, since square one implies that one has decided to take some sort of action, even if she doesn’t yet know what that action will be.
If just one single doctor had attempted to come to a diagnosis that matched my symptoms, rather than manipulating my symptoms to suit his preferred diagnosis (however inaccurate), I could have avoided much of this pain and suffering. But instead, I’ve been forced to spend agnozing hours on the phone and in appointments with specialist after specialist in pursuit of the right treatment, each time having to muster the energy to advocate for myself against an intimidating array of doctors who would rather protect their egos than heal their patients. And I’ve had to do all this while dealing with debilitating pain and exhaustion, barely able to eat or sleep, for nearly nine months.
What worse, I’m sure I’m not the only one. There must be countless others, and my heart breaks to think of them at the mercy of all those callous orthopedists, neurologists, anesthesiologists, and peddlers of woo. It’s shameful that so many patients are forced to muddle through a jungle of suspicions, doubt, placebos, and opaque medical jargon in pursuit of good medical care. I’ve had to aggressively pursue various avenues in search of the right diagnosis and treatment, and I’m fortunate to have a science background that enables me to sort through medical terminology. Not everyone has the resources and wherewithal to fight that kind of war day in and day out.
At last count, my pursuit has included six doctors, three massage therapists, and five physical therapists; four x-rays and MRIs; and nearly two dozen cortisone injections, trigger point injections, and nerve blocks, not to mention a nerve ablation. Physically, my body will have endured months of too little nutrition and sleep, and I will have exposed my liver and kidneys to an overwhelming, unrelenting onslaught of pain medications. Much of this may very well result in some permanent damage, the degree of which won’t be evident for some time.
It’s not supposed to be this way. Especially here, in this day and age, in a first world country that remains at the forefront of medical science. But, like so many other things upheld by entrenched financial interests, it is this way, and even a thousand bloggers wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it, never mind just one.
So patients, beware. You’re on your own.