Wednesday, May 31, 2017

I'm Mad, too, Eddie!

Today I am straying from my deaf life and posting about a different concern.

Three weeks ago, I began to have significant chest pain and shortness of breath. It began suddenly in the night and continued to worsen the next morning. I didn't feel like it was a major concern and went to work the next day. However, by mid-morning, my breathing worsened and I began to feel faint and dizzy. Since both my primary care physician and my cardiologist offices were closed, I had no other option but to go to the ER where I was admitted for observation and tests.

Having a history of dysrhythmia and pulmonary embolism, I was given the standard course of tests -- x-ray, echogram, and stress test, all of which came back normal. It wasn't my heart. Yet the chest pain and shortness of breath continued. At the end of the 2nd day, I was conferring with the hospitalist's PA about my orders to follow up with my primary care physician.

"So, what should I do about the pain and breathlessness until then?" I asked.
"I can give you something for anxiety," she said.
"Why anxiety?" I asked. "Do you think this a panic attack or something?"
"Well, it can relieve your stress and make you feel better," she said.
"I'm stressed because I can't breathe, and you want to give me a pill for anxiety?"
"No. That's not what I'm saying. But maybe it will make you feel better," she went on.
"Because it will...?" I was leading...
"Let me talk to the doctor about what we should do," she said and left my room.

As I lay there in the bed, waiting for someone -- anyone -- to give me answers and relieve my symptoms, I tried to quell the anger that was rising in me. And I remembered.

A gastrointerologist once suggested I see a psychiatrist after I'd been vomiting for 35 days and he deemed there was nothing physically wrong with me. It must be in my head. My private doctor looked at my test results and found that my gallbladder was infected and full of sludge and stones. He overrode the GI's orders and sent a surgeon to my hospital room. Surgery was performed the next morning and I haven't vomited since. The delay in treatment, however, left me with a resulting hiatal hernia from the vomiting and subsequent gastrointestinal problems that will plague me for the rest of my life.

The ire. The gall. The incompetence. The insinuation. I am not a crazy, hysterical, hypochondriac woman. Sometimes I have pain. And when I seek medical attention for it, it's because it's real. It is not in my head.

Yep. You know what? My name is Bonnie, and I'm mad as hell.

I'm mad because too many doctors' go-to diagnosis for women is "anxiety". I'm mad because it's not just me. I'm mad because I hear the same story from other women. Often. I'm mad because we are not hysterical. We are not crazy. I'm mad because anxiety and hysterics still play into the medical treatment for women in this day and age. I'm mad because women deserve better than "I can give you a pill for anxiety."

Would this have happened to a man, I wonder?

"Sir, maybe you should take this pill for anxiety and calm down. This pain is in your head."

 I think not. This is the archaic misogyny that is still present in medical practice today. And that makes me mad, too, Eddie.

The conclusion to this drama is that I refused to be told that the pain was in my head. I continued to press my own doctor until I got an answer. Pleurisy and resulting costochondritis. He's now treating me for both the pleurisy and the arthritic pain in the joints connecting the rib cage to the sternum caused by the pleurisy. I thanked him for treating me with respect and dignity. For persisting until he found the correct cause of my pain. For not insinuating that I am just a hysterical woman.

I feel a little better now that I have a treatment plan for my symptoms. Symptoms that can be treated and relieved. Symptoms that are real.

But I'm still mad. Oh yeah. Is there a pill for that?

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