I’m usually good about asking for help. Well, not always, but in the medical arena I’m good at it. I know what I don’t know, and I can feel myself drowning when I’m in over my head. One thing that drives me absolutely crazy, though, is when people won’t listen when I need them to hear me.
This happens in plenty of ways, I know, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. The kids are notorious for their selective hearing, exercising partial deafness depending on the day and their mood. There’s nothing like repeating yourself four times to make your brain implode.
It’s most irritating, though, when it comes to medical professionals and my health. I act responsibly when it comes to reaching out to doctors when I need to because I’m not delusional and I know that I didn’t actually go to medical school. I may act like I can doctor up as needed, but that’s for the small stuff that I know I can handle. Cuts, scrapes, minor burns, colds, bumps on the head…but for the big stuff? I have no problem asking for help.
I truly cannot tolerate doctors who don’t or won’t listen to what I have to say. I recognize that they’ve had far more schooling in the medical field; why is it that the vast majority of doctors don’t acknowledge that I’ve spent more time in this body (actually, I take first prize in that one) and have something valuable to contribute to the process? I’ve learned the hard way that I have to push back hard when I don’t feel like I’m being heard, even at the risk of being called a problem patient.
A few years ago I started having trouble breathing. I was getting winded climbing flights of steps, even going from the first story to second story of my house. I wasn’t working out like I used to so originally I wrote it off to being out of shape (“bad Laura!”), but it progressively got worse. I developed a terrible cough, one that moved in and out of the deep & rattling stage. Then one day I noticed a hitch in my chest when I tried to take a deep breath. This also got worse, but I tried to tough it out. I figured I was just dealing with a killer chest cold that wouldn’t go away, but after about 6 weeks (plus at least two bottles each of DayQuil and NyQuil) I knew I’d have to get in to see a doctor.
Things really came to a head at Thanksgiving that year. I barely made it through my family dinner and was completely exhausted; I didn’t know how I was going to survive another family gathering that Saturday and then hit the ground running for Christmas. I knew I’d hit rock bottom when I packed the kids into the car on Black Friday and headed to Urgent Care. (I don’t leave my house on Black Friday. Ever. It goes back to a few highly traumatizing experiences…just the thought of the lines and the traffic and the people is enough to make me hyperventilate.) But I couldn’t stand one more day of feeling awful, so I went in for help.
The good doctor sees me, takes my history, listens to my chest, and says I have bronchitis. Here’s an antibiotic, off you go.
A diagnosis — great. At least now I’m doing something. I take my antibiotic for 10 days like a good little patient and feel better. For a while. But a few weeks later the tightness in my chest starts to come back, and by the time I’ve returned from our New Year’s trip I’m back at ground zero. Short of breath, bad cough, hitch in chest.
Back to Urgent Care I go…another doctor, another exam, another diagnosis of bronchitis. I explain that we tackled that in November but they decide that I just have a tough case. So! Ten more days of antibiotics, followed by an even shorter period of feeling better.
When the ickiness resumes I head straight back in, and while talking to the doctor I am emphatic. Something is not right, I tell them. They listen to my breathing and determine I’ve developed walking pneumonia requiring — you guessed it — another round of antibiotics. Sigh. But I’m still doing my part, I’m still cooperating and taking my medicine like a good patient, convinced that this time it will knock out whatever crap has taken up residence in my chest.
A few weeks later I’m visiting my regular doctor for a checkup and explain what’s happened over the last few months, and again I emphasize something’s not right. She made a strange face after listening to my breathing, said she didn’t like the crackle she heard in my lungs, and sent me for an x-ray. Thank you baby Jesus, someone who is actually listening when I say FOR REAL, SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH ME.
It turns out the x-rays showed some suspicious shadows in my lungs so I got packed off for a CT scan. That showed unexplained scarring, and that diagnosis got me shuffled off to a pulmonologist for treatment.
How long has that scarring been there? The pulmonologist can’t say; it’s possible I’ve had it all my life. But I can’t help thinking about all those doctors, all those visits that winter, all those professionals who didn’t LISTEN when I told them something felt wrong with my body. How they pumped me full of useless antibiotics that didn’t begin to address the real issue. How I just kept going back when I would go downhill again, when maybe I should have gone to another physician sooner or pushed back harder.
I definitely learned this lesson the hard way. Moral of the story: less concern about being labelled a bitch, more emphasis on my issues being heard and taken seriously.