I am so tired. So tired of friends asking how I am, and then if I tell them, saying “Well maybe you should go to the doctor.”
Tired of going to the doctor and not being believed, having my symptoms dismissed, because… why? I’m a woman? I don’t know why, but all I can say for sure is that I have never been to the doctor about something which has turned out to be nothing, and yet that’s what they expect to happen every. fucking. time.
Last year I went to A&E with acute pain and they sent me home. A couple of days later, after I’d been back and back and back, saying I couldn’t eat without throwing up, they did tests and went “Ah, it’s probably gall stones.”
They stalled me for eight months, in which time I kept going back because every so often I’d have a period of several days when I couldn’t even ingest water without throwing it up again. I’d sit in A&E, severely dehydrated, be taken in and put on a bed and hooked up to IVs, and then sent home again.
I’d go to my GP and ask if there was anything he could do to speed up the process. “It’s just gall stones,” he said, “you’ll have to wait for an operation.”
It wasn’t just gall stones. The first test I’d had done was an ultrasound, and the guy who did it said I needed an operation urgently. Somehow, in the time it took me to walk downstairs, this got translated into “Stick her on the waiting list and tell her it’s gall stones.”
By the time I had surgery, things were very very bad inside me. My gall bladder literally melted inside my body, falling into several pieces when the surgeon went to take it out. Thus an operation that should have been a simple 20-minute keyhole surgery turned into several hours and four scars instead of one tiny one. The surgeon came and apologised to me the next day, saying they should have sent me for an operation when I’d first presented with symptoms eight months earlier. He also asked me to sign a release form so he could send my gall bladder off and study it, because he didn’t understand how I’d survived so long in that state.
After the operation I couldn’t feel the base of my spine or the top of my left leg. I told the nurse a few days later, who said they might have damaged a nerve when they did the operation, especially since it’d been more complex than they’d expected, and told me to come back if it got worse.
The next time I saw her, to remove my dressings, I said it’d got worse. She told me to book in with the GP the next day. I tried, but couldn’t get an appointment for another two weeks. So I waited.
By the time the two weeks was up, the numbness had almost disappeared and instead I was left with shooting pains. But this was progress, right? So I thought, well there’s no point taking up the doctor’s time, I might as well just carry on. I cancelled the appointment. Went about my life.
It got progressively worse, but I ignored it. Gradually I built up my level of exercise again – I’d missed swimming so much! – but eventually it got to the point where I could only pull myself through the water with my arms. The numbness was back. So were the shooting pains. And now my left leg was refusing to work at the end of every day, usually around 9pm.
I saw a friend who used to be a doctor, who said he thought it was a problem with the L5 nerve. Armed with this, I went back to my GP. I told him I couldn’t feel my left leg, that the left side of my body got progressively weaker throughout the day each day, until by evening I often wasn’t able to walk properly. It was affecting my life, I said. I couldn’t swim anymore, I said.
“It’s not ringing any alarm bells,” he replied. “We’ll do some blood tests to rule anything out, but beyond that I wouldn’t worry.”
Seriously? Fucking seriously? Someone comes to you and says 25-50% of their body isn’t working, and that doesn’t ring any alarm bells?
We then had a bizarre conversation about bowel movements, and he told me to go home and eat All-Bran. I told him I’d tried a high fibre diet and it hadn’t worked, and that bowel problems run in my family, and he said “It has to be All-Bran. Eat a bowl every morning for at least two weeks and it’ll sort it.”
It won’t. I know this already. And I don’t know what bowel movements have to do with probable nerve damage.
But I came home. I had the blood tests. I’m eating the fucking All-Bran. And in two weeks’ time, I will go back to the doctor and he will say the blood tests show nothing, and I will tell him the All-Bran isn’t magically curing my left side problem, and he will tell me to go away and exercise and eat vegetables. And I will tell him I do eat vegetables, and I can’t exercise, and I will ask him to send me for tests at the hospital, and he will refuse. And I will spend months going back and back and back, begging and nagging until eventually he will send me for some kind of test, at which point if my previous life experience is anything to go by, they’ll go “Oh shit, sorry, you should have been seen months ago.”
My favourite thing is when they say “You should have gone to the doctor earlier” as if you haven’t spent sometimes months, sometimes years, going back because that’s how long it takes for you to be believed.
I will reiterate: I have never in my life been to the doctor about something and had it turn out to be nothing, or all in my head. Even if I had, I would still have the right to medical care. But every time I have had a condition serious enough to go to the doctor about it, it has ended up being so serious that they’ve apologised profusely.
I don’t want their fucking apologies, though. I want a medical system that works. I want to go to the doctor, to be believed when I tell him my symptoms, and for whatever current issue there is to be sorted out.
“You must have a really bad doctor!” people crow, but no. This has been my experience with every doctor I’ve had. The one I have currently is actually better than a lot of them, because at least he finally sends me for tests, once I’ve nagged him enough.
But I am so tired. So tired of trying to explain this to people who look at me strangely and go, “Why don’t you just go to the doctor?” and when I tell them I have, they assume the doctor must be right, because that’s what they’re specialists in, surely? They’re health professionals.
Well yeah, they are, but GPs are there to treat minor ailments and refer you to people who know more about the specific area of the body that’s giving you grief.
I’m fairly sure I had a point when I started this post, which has now turned into a rambling rampage. But really, all I wanted to say was: if you’re healthy, and you’ve had a good experience with doctors, I am very happy for you. But when your friends tell you they’re having a nightmare, stop before you reply, and ask yourself “Could this sound a bit like I’m judging them for their illness? Could it sound like I’m placing the blame on them instead of on the professionals who are messing up their care?”
Because it is So. Damn. Exhausting. to have to battle doctors and nurses just to get yourself the most basic level of care you need. I for one don’t have the energy to also explain all that to my friends when they express their pure faith in the medical profession.
And if you’re having medical nightmares too, I feel ya. I hope you get the care you need, and soon. I thought I’d have a bit of a reprieve after the ten-month nightmare of 2017, but it looks like 2018 is following in its footsteps. At least for the moment I can still go outside and do stuff, but whatever’s wrong with my body isn’t getting any better, so I may be clocking out of life again at some point soon.
Thanks for reading. Back to normal cheery subjects (crime novels, horror films, working in counter terror) soon.