Instead of talking about what the new specialist did yesterday afternoon, I’d rather talk about what he didn’t do. He didn’t talk down to me. He didn’t brush my symptoms aside. He didn’t see “nothing remarkable,” about my shoulder. He didn’t think I was an addiction risk. He didn’t dismiss my sleep concerns. He didn’t want me to see an expensive specialist friend of his not covered by insurance. He didn’t make a snap diagnosis before gathering all of the information. In fact, he was unwilling to settle on any diagnosis at all without first hearing from an orthopedist to see if there might be a surgical solution to my problem.
He also didn’t seem too impressed by the doctor I had seen a couple of weeks ago.
“If you don’t have any pain in your lower back, why did he order a lumbar scan?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered.
He shook his head and typed some things into his laptop. “What anti-inflammatories have you been taking?”
More head shaking and typing. “What was his reason for not changing your sleep medication?”
I explained about the about the physiatrist, the cost ($600 an hour) and the fact that it wasn’t covered by my insurance. Still more head shaking, with an eye roll for good measure.
So now, I have new sleep meds, a referral to an orthopedist, and a prescription for a heavy-duty, big-gun anti-inflammatory. Most of all, I have my sense of self-worth back.
After my humiliation at the hands of the doctor from two weeks ago, the uncertainty has been worse than the [not inconsiderable] pain. I’d picked up all of my old, ineffective coping mechanisms that I’d put down months ago. I stopped calling people. I stopped making plans to see friends. I started second-guessing every choice I made. Stay home or not? Go the gym or not? Add an extra errand to a trip or not? I started coming down on the side of more activity instead of less, ignoring what my body was telling me. I even backed off my meds, worried I wasn’t going to be given enough of them, with the predictable result of increasing pain and fatigue which only deepened my depression. My sleep worsened, my appetite dwindled, and my weight gain plateaued.
I know better. And I know I know better. But I’m still fragile, emotionally as well as physically. I wish doctors knew how much their attitude affects their patients, not just in the exam room, but in those patients’ lives, outside and in, in what they think about themselves, in how they take care of themselves, in how they think about what their bodies are telling them. Self-possession is delicate in those of us in chronic pain, or at least, it is in us newbies. It has to be handled carefully; it doesn’t take much to shatter it. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t laud the small subset of doctors who have been gentle with me, frangible as I am, either sensing or knowing from experience how much effort I have to expend to maintain my composure, and how little would be leftover to repair any damage they might cause.
To be treated callously by a doctor when you’re in that condition isn’t just thoughtless, it’s abusive. I responded to that doctor from two weeks ago like someone who’d been brutalized, immediately reverting back to the self-destructive and self-minimizing patterns that defined my early experience with this injury. I lost the will to be kind and easy with myself. I went back to trying to force my body to behave the way it would if his assessment had been correct and I didn’t have much wrong with me. In only a couple of weeks, the effects of his treatment of me and my response to had exacted a noticeable a toll on my physical and emotional health. Had I not sought out another doctor… I don’t even want to think about it.
I was fortunate that the first flash of anger I felt at being so mishandled motivated me to seek out the new doctor and make the appointment that landed me in his office yesterday afternoon. The numb helplessness that supplanted that anger left me disinclined to pursue my treatment any further. I doubted my thoughts, my feelings, and the messages from my own body. I was thankless and petulant when Momma Ape had the audacity to refuse to leave me alone. I was losing the will to fight, and she knew it, and it frightened her, and she pursued me all the harder because of it. It was with palpable relief that I called her last night to tell her something I’d been waiting months to be able to say: “I think we’ve found the right guy.”
The windows are open in my apartment this morning, the recent heatwave having stormed out yesterday and left a cool, indigo dawn sidling up the street in its place. I’m charmed by the notion that even the weather shares my newfound assuagement. My shoulder hurts abominably, having slept poorly after only taking half of the sleep medication the new doctor prescribed (what can I say, I’m a slow learner), but for the first time in weeks, it’s just pain again. Plain, old, ordinary, vagabond pain, no baggage, no hopelessness, no doubt, or dread. Veritable pain, validated pain, pain that someone thinks he can fix, that someone has decided is worth trying to fix. And unlike the pain in my heart, that kind of pain I can bear without losing myself. And that makes all the difference.