Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Things Doctors Have Said - Pre ME

There seems to be a perception in the press that mis-diagnosis, poor service and rude treatment is a new phenomenon, fuelled by the under funding of the Health Service.

My experience is somewhat different.  I should add, in case anyone works out who I am, that I was brought up in Surbiton and then lived in Guildford.  Most of the stories here will relate to those times. I now live in a rural county where the services and attitude of almost everyone I have come across are poles apart from the attitude I experienced before.  There has been one exception, but that's for part 2 in the next post.

My mother started making me go to the doctor unaccompanied when I was about 17.  She couldn't understand that my reluctance to go without her wasn't due to shyness or cowardice it was simply due to the appalling attitude of my GP, whose name mercifully escapes me.  Two things happened to me at the age of 17 (pre ME).
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Symptoms

1) I "did something" to one of my big toes.  I was in London one evening with my family, wearing boots.  I stepped of an underground train and felt as if I had trodden on a stone.  The feeling and the pain remained with me as I hobbled all evening. The next day my toe was swollen to twice its size and black and blue.  A few days later I visited my GP.

Misdiagnosis

His diagnosis?  "You've got hard skin", he said.  That was it.  The swelling subsided but the pain remained - for two years.  I couldn't wear anything other than flat shoes.

Around a year later I went again.  He asked me "have you tried resting it for a week?"

Now, you might think that is a stupid question to ask of a now 18 year old girl.  Quick as a bunny I pointed out to him that I had been in hospital in the Autumn for a week when I had my appendix removed. (and that's story number 2!)

That Autumn (18 months after first hurting my toe) I went to university.  There we had to register with a local GP.  I seized the chance and went to see him.  His stunning pronouncement?  - This one deserves flashing lights, but it will have to make do with it's own line and coloured text:

"Come back when it's so bad you can't walk on it at all."

Yes, I promise you, that's what he said.

Eventual Diagnosis

The Christmas holidays came and I went back to my wonderful (not) GP.  This time I knew what I wanted, so I insisted he sent me to the local hospital (now gone) to see a consultant.  

In one day ( because I was due back at uni the next day) I saw the consultant, had an x-ray, then had another appointment with the consultant who explained that underneath the joint where your big toe joins the foot is a bit of tissue akin to your keencap.  I had misplaced this, which is why I felt as if I was walking on a painful lump for 2 years.  He advised that I wear an insert in my shoe. I was measured up for this the same day and wore it for several years.  It cured the problem.
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Symptoms

The second thing that happened when I was 17 was the onset of severe pain in my lower right abdomen.  Initially it was controlled with painkillers and came and went for a few months.  I vividly recall being in agony whilst on our family summer holiday in Scotland.  

Misdiagnosis

A few weeks later I decided to go to the doctor.  He didn't examine me and pronouned that I probably had period pains.  (Women's problems are a wonderful get out for GPs of teenage girls).

Come the Autumn (we still lived in Surbiton) I went to walk into Kingston one day.  I got part way and the pain became so intense I had to stop and catch the bus home.  Back to my GP where I explained that the pain had been so bad I hadn't been able to walk any further.  His reply?  He sneared at me - "What do you mean you COULDN'T walk???"  It wasn't a question, it was a calculated put down.

A couple of weeks later my mother insisted I went again and came in with me.  By then he was starting to realise that maybe, just maybe, there was a problem.  He said that he didn't think it was appropriate to refer me for surgery as I "might not have appendicitis and if they removed it they could be doing the wrong thing".  It didn't, apparently, occur to him to examine me even then.

Eventual Diagnosis

Another couple of weeks passed and I was taken bad on a Sunday.  My mother phoned and a locum doctor came to our house.  Guess what?  More flashing lights and sound of trumpets.............
He Examined Me
Yes, as I'd worked out for myself by then, I had appendicitis.  He said I wasn't sufficiently bad for him to call an ambulance but he would refer me to the local hospital for an appointment with a consultant.

The Consultant (said with a sarcastic sigh)

I was still 17 and innocent of the fact that seeing a consultant is a game that has to be played.  I didn't know the rules and took his opening question at face value.
"What's wrong with you?"  He asked.  I simply told him that I suspected I had appendicitis.

Was that ever a mistake!!  I was shouted at.  "I don't want to know what YOU think is wrong with.  TELL me what the symptoms are."  He barked at me.

The rest of this story is simple.  In due course my appendix was removed, I returned to school and everything in the garden was rosy.  

What a performance for the diagnosis of a simple to treat, common ailment of teenagers.

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