To the GI Doctor Who Told Me to Stop Looking for a Diagnosis


Dear doctor,

You probably do remember me. I was that 16-year-old girl who came back even after you told me to stay away and instead look for a psychologist or a psychiatrist. It has been years, but I do remember you vividly. You were a nice man, probably also a good doctor to many. But not to me.

I remember walking into the hospital for the first time – at least as a patient instead of a visitor. I was very hopeful and thought I would finally meet someone who would help or at least want to help me. My symptoms were new to me, and they scared and saddened me to no end. I told myself they would fade away anytime soon, and you were going to be the one to relieve me from them. It is not like I saw doctors as god-like figures, but I surely saw them as one of the most respectable people who are capable of showing great persistence, empathy, intelligence and strength. Unfortunately for me, that was not really the image you presented of yourself.

 

I told you about my symptoms of nausea and loss of appetite and the first thing you thought of mentioning was my weight. I was quite “heavy” for someone who had chronic nausea – at least that is what you thought. My BMI was a bit too high at the time, and I did not look “skinny,” you were right about that. But it does not mean I am exaggerating my symptoms or even lying about them. But I instantly got the vibe that you did not believe a word I said.

I was already quite paranoid about that, as many people thought I was being lazy instead of genuinely feeling sick. But I thought doctors like you would know better. After some random blood tests you told me I was perfectly healthy, at least physically. You told me there was one test left that you would consider if I really wanted it, which was a gastroscopy (upper endoscopy). But after that would show no abnormalities, I would have to stop looking for a diagnosis because there was none. I would have to stop “shopping for doctors,” you told me.

At what point in your education towards becoming a doctor did you lose your empathy? I had the gastroscopy done and my worst fear at that time came true: it showed no abnormalities. When you told me about the results at our last appointment, I accepted my “defeat” and thanked you for your help. You advised me to go to another medical speciality: psychiatry. I smiled and thanked you for advice again. After ending the conversation I hid in nearest restroom and cried for half an hour before walking out, holding my head up high again. I took your advice, and it was one of the worst decisions I have ever made in my life. A decision that will always haunt me, as psychiatry turned out to scar me for life.

Over a year or so after that I managed to become myself again, and decided I was going to visit a new gastroenterologist. This was one of the best decisions I made, as this man was determined to find out what caused my symptoms. After several tests that included blood tests, another gastroscopy, a gastric emptying study and an esophageal manometry, I finally got the news I had wished for: there was a diagnosis.

The tests showed I have gastroparesis as well as esophageal achalasia. That is not good news, some may think. But for me it was the proof that I was never lying or exaggerating. I had even started to doubt myself after the years of disbelief from others. It felt very strange: I knew those illnesses were both chronic, which means I would always feel the symptoms, every day. It meant there was not going to be a cure. And it took me a while to accept that fact. But now that I knew what the cause of my symptoms was, I could finally start moving on.

I told you this because I want to prevent this from happening to anyone else. I would not wish this upon anyone, coming across a doctor that tells you that you are lying or exaggerating. Unfortunately, this happens to many other (invisibly) ill people. And it breaks my heart.

I know you’ll probably regret your decision to send me away when you read this, and I do forgive you for making that decision. You thought you made the right decision at the time. Doctors are only human as well, and humans make mistakes all the time. But don’t let that mistake be in vain: learn from it.

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