Friday, June 24, 2011

Searching for Answers

My lack of posting as of late has been due to multiple issues, one of which being a flare up of a medical problem I have had my entire life that I hope to explain here, as well as address some patterns I've been noticing.

Imagine waking up feeling that all of your muscles are pulled tight like bungie cords. All of your joints are stiff, as though wrapped tight, preventing them from moving without great effort. You gather your strength and heave your body out of bed, every joint popping and cracking loudly, muscles stretching and aching in protest. As you dress yourself, the sensation of soft fabrics on your skin feels more like burlap. The constriction is uncomfortable.

Daily functioning is a daunting task. Shoes are distractingly tight no matter how loose-fitting. As you go through your day, simple acts like standing in line for an ATM induce a feeling of a vice around every joint in your legs. Sitting causes throbbing pain in your lower back and neck, as well as tingling and sharp pangs in your legs. Excessive writing causes pain and numbness through the arms, shoulders and upper back. By the evening, your entire body, every muscle, every joint, feels as though it has been beaten about.

Anti-inflammatories are of little help. Over time, a tolerance for the medication builds up. Pain is only relatively recently being viewed and researched not merely as a symptom of illness, but as an illness unto itself. We understand relatively little about pain and how our bodies feel pain and our brains process pain. It is fascinating how something so pervasive in the act of just living is so poorly understood.

My own battles with pain began when I was very young, beginning with a certain sensitivity to visual and aural stimulation. In the years since, it has expanded to the description above. I have good days, and I have bad days. Good days, I end the day with only mild aches in a couple joints. Bad days, I completely lose my composure and simply lay in bed weeping from the pain.

Chronic pain is little understood by those that neither have it themselves, nor witness a loved one experience it. When asking what is wrong, it can be baffling when someone says they're sore for no real reason. It is difficult to understand the frustration that comes with going to doctor after doctor after doctor, never receiving any real answers, or being told that it is all in your head. The pressure to keep one's composure through it all, to not let on the agony you are experiencing just from sitting in a chair at lunch; but you dare not stand, as that will cause even more pain.

For the last two to three months, my pain has increased to a barely tolerable level. I've altered my pain medications, in hopes of avoiding tolerance to certain anti-inflammatories. Significant Other has been a dream through all of this, laying with me as I wept through the pain at night, or applying pressure to my inflamed and swollen joints. His patience and understanding has made it possible for me to find the strength to keep getting up and going out the door in the morning.

I do not write this looking for sympathy. It is merely an explanation of my lack of posting, and an attempt to raise awareness of an issue I have with the medical community. I realize that the human body is a complex and often mysterious thing that is capable of some truly amazing feats while still retaining a certain fragility to it. However, in the numerous doctors I have seen since I was young (and believe me, it has been quite a few), there is a disturbing pattern of dismissiveness that I (and many people I know) have encountered. I understand doctors are merely human, subject to human faults and flaws. Even taking all of that into account, I find the level of condescension and sometimes bordering on belittling treatment of patients by doctors to be something to be ashamed of.

In the skeptical community, it is often asked why, even when presented with all the evidence, people still choose to go to alternative medical practitioners (no matter how much an individual may know it to be bunk). My personal explanation (based solely on personal anecdote) is the more personalized and intimate treatment people often receive at alternative practices. The practitioners tend to listen more to the patient, interrupt them less, and make the patient feel more relaxed and valued as a person. This more personalized attention and giving the patient a sense of being heard gives people confidence in alternative medical practices.

It is exceedingly frustrating when trying to list out and explain medical history and symptoms, to be interrupted, corrected, or told that something isn't important. Last year I dislocated and micro fractured a rib on my left side. When explaining where the pain was (in my chest, directly below my breast), my physician interrupted me and asked if I was sure it was rib pain, and perhaps not abdominal/bowel pain. After this occurred in multiple visits, I inadvertently lashed out at the physician saying that I was damn sure it was rib pain, seeing as how I had both dislocated and micro fractured a rib quite recently, and I was intimately familiar with abdominal/bowel pain. I know of others who have gone through similar experiences.

A seeming distrust of patients to be familiar with their own bodies functioning, and when a person feels that something abnormal is occurring, appears to be the norm for general practitioners. Or alternatively, being listened to intently, comments being acknowledged, and then being asked if I have ever felt the need to see a psychologist (which is downright insulting to someone who has mental illness and is quite familiar with its symptoms being separate from those being presented).

Being a physician is demanding, and medicine is by no means an exact science, I recognize these things. But to be treated in such a negative fashion leaves little wonder as to why there has become such a widespread mistrust of the medical community. This is not say that there are not great doctors out there that do wonderful jobs and treat their patients spectacularly. This is not about them. This is about the doctors that make being a patient, being ill, even more trying and stressful than it need be.

I do not know what the source of my pain is. I do however know it to be separate from my depression and anxiety, as it cycles differently. I will continue to search for answers within the medical community, despite my frustrations. My hope is that with some new research I have come across, I will be able to find a physician that can give me the answer I seek. Even if it turns out there is nothing that can be done for my condition, just having an answer, a name, a reason for my body to feel the way it does would be wondrous. It is especially my hope that I find a doctor that is willing to listen to what I have to say, and work with me in solving this puzzle.

1 comment:

  1. Good post. You make a good point about why people turn to alternative medicine. Sometimes a more emotional connection can make you feel better.