My Promise to Myself When Doctors Dismiss My Chronic Pain

I’ve struggled with chronic pain for the last several years, due to rheumatoid arthritis and neuropathy of an unknown origin. As a result, like many others out there, I’ve grown accustomed to having to justify my pain to medical professionals who either don’t understand, or whose hearts have hardened over the years from being overworked and underpaid. I’m a nursing aide in a local hospital, so I see it firsthand, every day. I’ve also learned, out of necessity, how to cope with my pain the best I can so that I can continue to work to support my family.

A couple of weeks ago, I was forced to see a new doctor because of a snafu with my insurance conpany. I had begun experiencing excruciating pain in my low back that was preventing me from standing up or sitting for more than a few minutes at a time. I’d never experienced pain like this before. He was dismissive and prescribed ice packs. Two days later, I got up out of bed and, upon standing, the pain radiated sharply into my groin. It was so severe that I soiled myself and fell on my face. My partner drove me to the emergency room, where they again suggested ice packs and gave me muscle relaxers, which provided minimal relief.

The pain got worse, and I had to go back to that doctor again yesterday morning. I dreaded seeing him again. I recognized the early signs of a panic attack as I waited in the lobby for the nurse to call my name. I rushed to the bathroom, where I broke down and began to cry. Would this be what my life looks loks from now on? Will my existence always be this horrible balancing act between fear and pain? And that’s when a quiet voice spoke in my head. I’m not religious — call it God, the universe, my subconscious, what have you. But it said this: “Your pain does not control you. This doctor does not control you.” And from there I started writing my Pain Manifesto:

My pain does not define me.

My pain will not control me.

I will not be silenced, dismissed or marginalized by my pain, either directly or indirectly by the treatment of others.

I will give others the same kindness and respect that I ask for myself.

I will not minimize or dismiss another human being because of their pain.

I will not allow my integrity to be questioned in regards to my pain. I will neither condone nor perpetuate the same toward another human being.

All human beings deserve to be treated with kindness, respect and compassion. Period.

I left that bathroom still hurting, but calm. I explained to the doctor that my symptoms were worse, and I could no longer control my bladder. He suggested a urologist. I asked how that would help me to walk without a cane or stand straight. From there he began to raise his voice, to tell me he had “seen my kind before” and that I wouldn’t “pull one over on him.” I informed him I was recording our interaction on my phone. His face drained of color and he left the room. I immediately called my insurance company, who fixed the problem and got me in with my old primary care physician right away. Long story short, I had an MRI last night and I have a slipped disc. I likely need surgery. Had I not advocated for myself, my pain would have swallowed me up.

You are more than your pain.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment when you were at a hospital and a medical staffer, fellow patient or a stranger made a negative or surprising comment that caught you off guard. How did you respond to it? 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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