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The Question an ER Doctor Asked That Meant the World to Me

Back in the beginning of December, I was experiencing worsening symptoms of my fibromyalgia and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I chalked it up to a flare and tried to move on with my life. However, my immune system had other plans. Weakened by the flare-up amid cold and flu season, I contracted viral syndrome. By the time New Year’s Day came and went, I could hardly function.

The thing is, I didn’t know what was going on at the time. Two days ago, I ended up with a skull-splitting migraine that can best be described as a serrated knife sawing at my forehead. I felt more sick than I ever had in my entire life, and now nothing was touching this migraine. I was driven into near hysterics with pain, and all I could think was, “Somebody. Please. Help me.”

That’s how I ended up in the ER for the sixth time in the past five months. This time, it was late at night, and I had come alone. I was afraid I wouldn’t be taken seriously because I could drive myself. How could I explain that my depth perception was altered so much by my migraine that I nearly ran a red light? It turns out I wouldn’t have to. For once, from registration to discharge, I was shown unconditional concern and sympathy. 

My nurse was oozing with kindness. She inquired about the fur on my clothing: “Cats or dogs?” In my pain haze, I was confused for a moment before answering. We had a mini-conversation about pets before she started taking my vitals. She got my IV in on the first poke, which is a miracle with my bound-to-blow veins. 

I had a hard time answering questions, and then I was afraid that the staff would interpret it as drug-seeking behavior. But the doctor took me seriously, even though my words were sparse and stuttered. He even noticed that I was dehydrated due to postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) sucking me dry of all the liquids I consumed. 

The thing that really stuck with me, however, was one question the doctor asked: “What are your current health problems?” Instead of assuming I was seeking narcotics without inquiring about any illnesses, this doctor cared enough to just ask. He took the time to see my previous visits in my chart to get a better understanding of why I was there. And that meant the world to me. 

I ended up leaving the ER after receiving a dose of a strong anti-inflammatory, which drastically reduced my head pain, fluids for my dehydration and a diagnosis of one nasty virus. I had hope. I didn’t feel afraid anymore. I got the help I needed. 

This rarely happens to me. This was only the second time I received adequate treatment in the ER. I don’t necessarily blame the staff, however. After doing some digging and asking my friend, an EMT and paramedic-in-training, I learned that those who seek out narcotics in the ER often present themselves as chronic pain patients. Therefore, it’s difficult at times to distinguish between those who are truly in pain and those who are only there for a prescription.

It takes some extra digging and interpretation to sort through those with drug-seeking behaviors and those who just need help and relief. But in my recent experience, doctors and nurses can do wonders for chronic pain patients if they are willing to listen before judging. With this, I hope one day the disconnect between patients of painful conditions and ER staff will close. I can say that this single experience tells me that my hope is not in vain.

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