Why I'm Thankful the Doctor Embarrassed Me on My Diagnosis Day

It was the day I’d waited for. Finally an appointment with someone who may be able to help me understand the root of these endless migraines, the nausea and cramping, the burning muscles and debilitating lack of energy. The rooms were painted a sick off-white color and my chair scraped loudly as I sat down.

“Brilliant, he’s got a student with him,” I thought to myself as I sized them up. It would be good have two brains on this. Someone young and fresh who’s interested to see what’s going on, not to mention that the intern was rather good-looking.

I gowned up as instructed and sat on the bed waiting for them to come back in. The screech of the metal curtain rail echoed in my tender head and I proceeded to use all my remaining energy, concentrating as hard as I could on the series of instructions and tests the doctor gave me. After a while he had me lie down on my stomach, which I endeavored to do discretely.

I’d worn good underwear, but one always likes to maintain a measure of dignity.

While the good doctor paused to record some notes, the student and I chatted idly, at which point we discovered he was best friends with someone I had grown up with (and had a terrible crush on for years!).

The doctor returned and as he made his way down my body, testing and prodding trigger points, I had a sudden feeling of impending doom. Before I knew what was happening he whipped the back of my gown sideways, slipped my underwear below my buttocks and placed the back of his hand against my cold cheeks. “Feel this,” he prompted the student. “Lack of temperature regulation,” he stated and turned to scribble some more notes, leaving the good-looking young intern to quickly and awkwardly feel me up.

Half giggling and fully blushing I turned away towards the wall, and this is how I will remember diagnosis day. Not for the fact that I was only 20. Not because the rheumatologist would finally package up my years of unknowns into a diagnosis of “chronic persistent sporadic musculoskeletal pain syndrome,” like he was proud of himself for so aptly describing what was glaringly obvious. Not because he condescendingly told me, “You can call it chronic pain syndrome or fibromyalgia if you like.” No, all of these fade against the memory of the intern clumsily laying his good-looking hands on my rear.

I was young and at that point rather uneducated about what was happening to my body, and looking back there are so many things the doctor could have done to make that day a little more understandable. He could have talked me through what tests he was carrying out, treating me as connected rather than simply a subject of the tests. He could have explained to me what that diagnosis meant for me going forward and more about my treatment options, instead of cutting me adrift with an optional referral to go and see a pain clinic if I wanted to. He was just a doctor, doing his best and despite their very best intentions, medical professionals have a lot of people to see, tests to complete and diagnoses to finalize, so sometimes they’re not able to give us the perfect appointment.

I’ve realized over time, though, that it’s been my choice to see the funny side and make the best of those visits that kept me going. My husband has been invaluable for this and has always done his best to keep me laughing when things got difficult, and to this day we continue to chuckle about that moment in particular. He even walks past me occasionally and gets a sneaky squeeze in, muttering something to the effect of “awfully cold.”

Thanks for the memories, Doc!

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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? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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