For a while now I have been moaning that my neck is sore / hurts / agony, take your pick. Last week I had blood tests to see if I was suffering from nutritional deficiencies and that is what was causing the numbness / pins and needles in my arms and face. Today I finally got to see a doctor. It was a long wait as with hubby’s hours it is easier if I can book an appointment on his day off, rather than have him come out of work and take me. It was actually getting the appointment to have my bloods taken that took the time to organise. It would appear Tuesday is a popular day. I then had to have the doctor’s appointment a week later. As luck would have it my neck actually wasn’t too sore today, the day I would finally see the doctor.
As this appointment was needed quickly ( although three weeks was three weeks too long really) I decided to take pot luck. I usually try to see the same doctor so there is some continuity of care and they have a basic idea of what is going on. However I was feeling very let down after my appointment in July where my neck pain was put down to stress. Now I was under a great deal of stress at the time mum had been diagnosed with cancer and there were other things going on in the background. So it would be an easy diagnosis to come to but even then I did come away from the appointment thinking I really should have been examined before this was written off as stress. It makes me worry that if I saw that doctor with chest pain that again it would be written off as stress when I could be having a heart attack. It’s not a nice situation to be in when you doubt your doctors clinical judgement. They are supposed to be the experts and be on your side, yet when you get written off as a basket case due to stress, it makes you not want to fight. Which is what I should have done because maybe I wouldn’t be in as much pain as I am now.
I will be the first to admit that yes I have been having some mental health struggles this year due to losing Willow and so many close friends and family in such a short space of time. I also went through a great deal of stress in the summer. I understand completely that mental health issues can manifest as physical issues. Yet the diagnosis of stress or anxiety or depression should only be given after an examination to check that there is nothing mechanically wrong. That didn’t happen during my appointment in July and I am angry about it. I am angry at myself for not asking the doctor why he or she felt that my symptoms of numb hands and neck pain didn’t warrant an examination. I understand that doctors especially gp’s are under enormous pressure, especially with health budgets being slashed, Don’t believe what the government tells you when it says its spending more in real terms its less money and our health service is drowning because of it. Just to make sure if this government stays in power when it suggests privatisation people will believe its the only thing to save our NHS and people like me will have no access to healthcare as we won’t be able to afford the insurance premiums. That’s my political rant over, I don’t do politics very often here but it needs said.
Anyway as usual I went off on a tangent, it makes me really angry when doctors are lazy and use a mental health diagnosis against a patient, which I feel is what happened to me in July. My notes say I am being treated for anxiety and depression, my mother has just been diagnosed with cancer so of course my physical symptoms are a manifestation of that. See how easy it is for a doctor to disregard real symptoms? The sad thing is people with anxiety and depression don’t have the energy to fight that kind of lazy doctoring. That was the position I was in then. I was happy to go along with what the doctor said because I trusted them. I am angry because they disregarded the Hippocratic oath of first do no harm. By brushing off my symptoms of stress they left me open to harm. I could have been suffering from a nutritional deficiency like B12 deficiency, a blood clot, vasculitis a pinched nerve. However that doctor would never know as they were convinced it was stress and an increased dose of amiltriptyline would do the trick.
Today I was dreading my appointment, my mind was racing, was I going to be dismissed again as being stressed? Or would this doctor take the time to examine me? I know doctors make mistakes and they are only human but a friend of mine almost died from meningitis after a doctor didn’t examine him. His wife found him unconscious in their home. If she hadn’t come home early from work he would have been dead. I had worked out through google and the fact that I have an ounce of common sense that the numb / pins and needles in my arms and face were being caused by a pinched nerve. Stress does not disappear when you put on a soft neck collar. Armed with this information plus the discharge notes from 2016 that contain the radiographers report from my MRI which says I have reversed cervical lordosis. I was ready to do battle and push for a diagnosis.
Why is it when you are prepared for a fight you never get one? Is it because you are giving off the don’t fuck with me vibes? I don’t know. This doctor examined me, so thoroughly that I have been in an awful lot of pain for the remainder of the day. I can’t complain about that at least this time I was taken seriously. However something they said really threw me, after they examined me they asked ” and what are your aims for this appointment?”. I have to say this really threw me, looking back now I wish I’d said ” well my aim is that I get a fucking diagnosis, after all you’re the doctor”. But I imagine that wouldn’t have gone down well and I may be looking for another healthcare provider if I had. But seriously what kind of question is that? That’s business speak and that has no place in an NHS doctors appointment. Why ask that question? Had I not had years of experience as a manager I may have found myself at a loss for words. Why do most people go to the doctors? To get help? Support? Advice? A diagnosis perhaps? Did they think I was going to say ” I want you to wave a magic wand and make my pain go away?” Did they think after years of dealing with doctors that I would have unrealistic expectations? I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome I have learnt to expect nothing from a doctor other than a shoulder shrug at best. As you may be able to tell this question ” and what are your aims for this appointment” has really bloody annoyed me.
I was expecting at some point they were going to ask me to complete a PDP ( personal development plan) with SMART objectives Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Targets. Or maybe they would have me complete a Root Cause Analysis so we could get to the bottom of what was triggering my neck pain. You see I did 18 years of bullshit management speak. To my shame I taught this shit to up and coming managers in a previous life. It has no place in the NHS as I am a patient not a customer, it has no place in an appointment because all I expect in an appointment is for the doctor to do their job. I have no idea what you will suggest because I am not a mind reader, I thought perhaps you might say I need an X-ray or an MRI or maybe even physio but all I wanted from you was a plan. I don’t know what your other patients want from you but from this patient to you please stop asking that question or think of something else to say. I get that some patients may come in expecting top-notch state of the art care like they see on Holby City / Greys Anatomy/ any other popular hospital drama and your job is to manage unrealistic expectations. I don’t and that question has really annoyed me ( no shit Rach, I can hear you all saying!).
Now some of you may think that I am over reacting to this innocent question but to me it was a loaded question. I don’t doubt that this doctor had my best interests at heart, they after all discovered that I have altered sensation in my left arm and areas of complete numbness, they also have given the diagnosis of a pinched nerve in my neck. Which was the same conclusion I had come to. To me the question could be one asked by someone trying to figure out what the bare minimum is that they will get away with providing . Call me cynical but after having to do battle with numerous doctors over the years I know that cost is coming into clinical decisions more and more. It can’t be helped when the purse strings have been tightened so much that even targets for patients with cancer are being missed by the majority of NHS hospitals. If my aim was to have my pain reduced that’s a quick win as they could give me a prescription for pain meds, if I wanted a referral to a spinal surgeon then my expectations would have to be managed and ( as I know) physio would have to be tried first. As it is I want to avoid surgery on my neck at all costs. To me the risk are just too high, that unless I am completely incapacitated by pain, it’s not an option I want to go for.
Having seen a spinal surgeon before I know they like you to try all options before you go for surgery and I am happy with that. Physio treatment in 2014 or 2015 meant I avoided a spinal fusion. I know that without having jumped through that hoop any referral to see a surgeon would be rejected by the hospital because all non surgical routes had not been explored.
I have declined using the NHS physio team as unfortunately they are utterly useless when it comes to dealing with people with EDS. The last NHS physio I saw was supposed to be an expert on the condition and I could have written what she knew about EDS could have been written on the back of a postage stamp. She became totally fixated on my wheelchair, so none of the exercises were there to help the problem I was seeing her for but more to get me walking rather than using a wheelchair. I use a wheelchair due to the fact I faint without warning which leave me at a serious risk for a head injury, I also dislocate my knees, hips, ankles and spine when I walk more than a few metres. I also develop bursitis in my hips if I walk too much ( too much being more than a few metres). I had to give up walking my dogs in 2008 as I kept waking up on Woodbury common bleeding not knowing what had happened to me and the dogs wandering down the path in front of me. Thankfully the doctor I saw today was horrified at this physios dangerous fixation and agreed with me that preventing head injury and pain was imperative. Someone who was supposed to be an expert in EDS and PoTs should have known that. Hence why I am incredibly sceptical as to who gave this physio the title of an EDS expert because I have more knowledge than they do.
So I am going back to the private physio I saw in 2014 and had fantastic results with. It is incredibly expensive but I am hopeful if anyone can help me avoid spinal surgery Jane will. I hate using private instead of the NHS but I am afraid NHS appointments are too rushed. I need longer than 15 minutes, I need someone who will work with me and will admit that they know nothing about the condition rather than pretend they are an expert. It also means I wont have to travel 30 minutes to an appointment which will exhaust me before I even get there. Or the unrealistic expectation that I can go three times a week, when I don’t have a driving licence and can’t manage public transport alone as my wheelchair is attendant pushed how am I supposed to get there? Because I am a paying customer there I am treated in a much better way and they understand that there us a life outside of the health service something which some NHS staff struggle to understand. I am incredibly lucky that I am in the position where currently I can afford to pay for private treatment but it will still put a strain on my finances.
So I wonder what will be the next go to question at any future gp’s appointment? As long as it isn’t “and what do you want me to do about it?” I think I’ll cope!