When You Get That Dreaded Phone Call From Your Doctor


I got the dreaded phone call from the doctor on Monday. If you live with a chronic illness, you’ve likely gotten it before: “We need to discuss your blood test results.” I know what this phone call means. It means something has gone wrong.

I remember the first time I got this phone call. I was 29 and had been experiencing sore joints for a couple of weeks. My doctor said it was just a virus, but he’d run some blood tests to be sure. About four days later, the medical practice asked me to come in to “discuss your blood test results.” Not long after that, I was told I have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and my world crumbled for a while.

Over the next couple of years I received the call again and again: “We need to discuss your results.” Never once did those results end well. Generally, they led to more medication or scans or, at one point, to major surgery. I learned to dread seeing my phone ring a few days after I had tests done. The emotions it would raise were horrendous, and just from a simple phone call. I remember one time when I saw my phone ring and it was the specialist’s office, I burst into tears and just stared at my phone for an hour before I could bring myself to call them back.

About nine months ago, though, my phone didn’t ring following my RA monitoring blood tests. When I saw my doctor I finally received the news I had been dreaming about — my RA was in remission! It was like being able to breathe again after being weighed down by RA for a couple of years. Over the last nine months, the monitoring blood tests have continued, my phone has stayed silent and I have rebuilt my life into something I am very proud of.

Then on Monday, the phone call came and my world fell apart. It’s hard to put into words just how shattering it is to be facing another flare of RA. Even before I have confirmation that my RA is flaring, all the old emotions have surged to the surface. The fear, the doubt, the sadness, the anger — all triggered by that phone call and by those words that are the siren song of ill health: “We need to discuss your results.”

I will say that I have found one small positive from the dreaded phone call — it prepares you for what comes next. As I ready myself to see the specialist next week, I have had a chance to prepare my mental defenses. I have the opportunity to give my support network the heads-up so they know they might need to provide extra support if the news is bad.

Most importantly, it’s given me the chance to remind myself that I have fought and won this battle once before, and I can do so again.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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