Me vs M.D.

In May 2005, I was very sick.  It started as a cold, which eventually went away, but left behind a nasty cough.  This cough did not seem to be getting any better, and it was very annoying.  I had already graduated from high school, but I was still in rehearsals for a dance recital and a musical with my local theatre group, so my health was rather important.  One day while coughing, I managed to pull a muscle in my chest, so now whenever I coughed, I had to kind of crouch down to one side and hold the spot where the muscle was pulled to minimize pain.

Very inconvenient.

I went to the doctor to make sure it wasn’t bronchitis or anything, but they said it was just a cold and I should be fine in a few days, to just keep taking Robitussin.

This also happened to be during the brief stint of time during which I was seeing a therapist once a week.  One day, I was sitting in the waiting room of said therapist’s office and I had a particularly annoying coughing fit.  I crouched over like I had been doing for a  few days to try to spare my poor muscles.  Then, all of a sudden I felt a distinct POP.  The pain was so blinding I didn’t even realize how much it hurt until I started losing my vision.  I was very close to losing consciousness.  I took deep [slow, careful] breaths and was somehow able to not pass out.

I don’t know what powered me through – adrenaline, panic, confusion – but somehow when my doctor came out and called my name I managed to get up and waddle to her office and sit through an entire hour long session without mentioning the ridiculous amounts of pain I was in.  I casually chatted about life post-graduation, how things were going with my mother, etc.  The whole session is really just a blur.  As I was leaving, she asked if I had any plans for the rest of the day and I remember saying something about going to the doctor because I was pretty sure I broke my rib.  She looked at me like she wanted me to sit back down for another session, but she thankfully just ignored it and let me go.

As soon as I got to the parking lot I started to cry.  It was like the reality of the pain and what probably just happened all hit me and I lost control.  I called my mom and told her what I thought happened and she told me to calm down and come home and she would take me to the doctors.

In retrospect, she realizes that letting a hysterical girl with a broken rib drive 30 minutes home wasn’t the best idea, but I’m pretty sure at the time she thought that I was exaggerating.

I can be a little dramatic sometimes.

I managed to dig out my keys from my purse with as little movement as possible. As soon as I stuck my keys in my car door, however, my phone fell from my hand and almost under the car.  I looked down at my phone in dismay, imagining the amount of pain I would have to endure to retrieve it and considered leaving it there.  Realizing this was a terrible idea, I did some sort of ninja-type slide down to the ground to get it. It was not pleasant.

I somehow managed to get home in one piece without turning my body at all, relying solely on my rearview mirrors. This is not a fun or safe task when merging onto highways, and I don’t recommend it to anyone.  Eventually I got home and my mom took me to the doctor.  I told her what happened and how I think I broke my rib and she just about laughed in my face. She said, “The only people who break ribs from coughing are old people with osteoporosis. You’re a healthy 18 year old, you probably just pulled a muscle. But I do want to give you a chest x-ray to make sure it’s not pneumonia.”

While I was waiting for the results of my chest x-ray in the hospital, a nurse came over and sat down next to me, put her hand on my leg and said, “Are you okay, honey?”.  I looked at her and was like “Yes?”.  She patted my leg and gave me a pitiful look and walked away.  I looked at my mom with my eyes open wide and asked her, “Oh my God, am I dying?!.

My panic started to escalate

Finally, some blurry amount of time later, the doctor told me (quite matter of factly) that I did in fact have pneumonia and that I did actually manage to break my rib.  She didn’t apologize for not believing me.  She also didn’t say anything about what would have happened if my rib hadn’t broken and I went on having pneumonia with everyone thinking I was fine, just because I was “walking around” and “didn’t look that sick”.

Needless to say that was my last visit to my pediatrician.  At 18, it was about time I got a grown-up doctor anyway.

The next few weeks were kind of awful.  I had to sleep sitting in a reclining chair in my living room because lying down was near impossible. It hurt to breathe.

I don’t know if you know this, but we, as humans, breathe a lot. And apparently it’s necessary. Because not breathing? That ended up not working for me.  They gave me codine to sleep, which was nice of them, but the dreams were freaking insane.  So realistic and terrifying that I ended up not feeling very well rested anyway.

Though, I was a trooper and only had to pull out of one of my two dance recital numbers, and still put on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with my theatre group [just ducking off stage for the cartwheel part].

Sadly, this experience [though a great conversation piece], was the beginning of my distrust in doctors.  When I got to college, we had a health clinic that we could just show up at pretty much whenever we needed to. It was super convenient and now that I’m not in college I realize just how amazing it really was.  However, going there was sometimes a hassle for me.

The thing is, when I’m sick with bronchitis or pneumonia, my only obvious symptom is the cough.  I don’t get a fever, I don’t lose my appetite – there’s not even that infamous “crackle” in my lungs when I have pneumonia.

After being misdiagnosed twice [had also had pneumonia the year before I broke my rib, which made the whole thing that much more infuriating] I went to the health center telling the doctor that I thought I had pneumonia.  She was very sweet, but looked at me like I was just being overdramatic because I wasn’t feeling well.  She told me that she highly doubted I had pneumonia because I didn’t have a fever and she didn’t hear any crackling.  Hearing those familiar excuses, I flipped.  Practically all in one breath I exclaimed that no one EVER hears the crackles and that I’ve had pneumonia twice in the past three years and that last time that they didn’t catch the pneumonia in time I coughed so hard I broke a rib and I really didn’t want to break another rib because it was the least amount of fun I ever had.  She looked at me with wide eyes as I finished my rant and laughed nervously.  Still not convinced, she told me she could give me a chest x-ray if it would make me feel better.  I sat up feeling proud.  Yes, that would make me feel better, thank you very much.

When she got the results back she must have apologized about a thousand times.  She explained that I had pneumonia in three of the five lobes of my lungs and that she couldn’t believe she couldn’t hear it.  She frantically gave me my prescription and told me to drink fluids and get rest.  A few days later I had an email from her asking how I was doing and to come in for a follow-up appointment the following week.

I’ve never gotten so much attention from a doctor before. I think she felt bad.

So now, every time I go to the doctor [which is only when I KNOW I’m sick and it’s not something that will go away on it’s own] I go in with my guard up, prepared to have to battle them for medicine.  It’s not that I don’t think they’re smart or I doubt their abilities, it’s more that I know my own body and I know it doesn’t react “normally” to illnesses.  I also have a lower core body temperature than most – 96 on an average day – so when my temperature is 98 or 99 they’re not very concerned, when realistically it’s more like a 100 or 101 fever would be to any other person.  It’s really frustrating and it’s why I tend to be very hesitant to go to the doctor. I have to be in an insane amount of pain or discomfort to go.

Much to the chagrin of my family and friends, this means I often turn to WebMD.  Which has turned me into a bit of a hypochondriac.  While I always had a fear of tuberculosis, suddenly there were other dangerous diseases out there that matched any symptom I had.  Fortunately, this did not cancel out my annoyance with doctors, so I don’t run to them with every suspicion of leukemia or malaria.  This is a very good thing, since I have yet to develop anything more serious than pneumonia or strep throat.

Hopefully WebMD is never right, and hopefully I eventually start to trust doctors to listen to me, but until then I will continue to rely on DayQuil and orange juice as much as possible, and advocating for my own health whenever those things just aren’t enough.

However, next time I suspect I have a sinus infection, I will not be waiting until I’m sure it’s strep before finding a doctor. Promise.

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~ by Valerie Anne on 12/05/2010.

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