To the Immunology Consultant Who Told Me I Was 'Wasting His Time'
Last year, I came to the immunology department of the hospital where you work for a consultation. You don’t know this, but I was pinning a lot on that appointment. I refused to leave the GP until she promised to refer me to your department because I remain convinced there is something wrong with me and that all my symptoms point to an autoimmune condition. The GP in question was reluctant to refer me to anyone, and tried to dismiss me with “it’s just low blood pressure” without even taking my blood pressure (which I know for a fact to be within normal range).
I was so excited for that appointment. I wrote two pages of notes about my symptoms and triggers and my history in a little notebook because I know how forgetful I get under stress, and I wanted to give you the clearest picture I could. I understand what a stressful job it must be to have the level of responsibility you do, and the pressure to treat people you may know little about.
When I arrived, I was sent for some standard skin prick tests and I chatted with the nurse about my triggers and he believed me, but told me they didn’t have skin prick tests for them. About 10 minutes later, I was called into your office. I thought you looked very kind as my mother and I took our seats.
You looked at me and asked me, “So, what can I do for you today?”
“Oh, well, I think I have a mast cell disorder.”
“Which one? Why? That’s a very broad term and it’s very unlikely. I very much doubt it.”
You caught me by surprise. I had done my research but I am by no means qualified – I last did biology at GCSE and a lot of the subtleties between conditions are lost on me, and I know it. If I knew all the answers I would not have been there. I tried explaining that my symptoms seem fairly textbook and how my sister has had a similar condition for more than four years now, but you wouldn’t let me speak.
You spent at least a third altogether of my 15-minute consultation telling me how you’re very busy, how your department is very busy and how I’m in the wrong department. You told me all about how I evidently didn’t have an allergy at all, since my symptoms when exposed to my trigger foods (difficulty walking, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, unconsciousness) didn’t sound at all like an allergy, and that it really was wasting your time.
You asked me how long I’d had my symptoms. I told you: as long as I can remember, but I only traced them to certain foods within the previous two years. You looked again at your notes, and saw that I’d been taking Sertraline, an antidepressant, for roughly a year. You told me that clearly what I was experiencing was a reaction to the medication I was taking for my anxiety and depression. When I protested, you added that it was probably also my anxiety causing the problems.
You had a thought, and had me lay on the bed so you could examine me. You tested my reflexes with a hammer and felt my entire abdomen, then told me you couldn’t find anything wrong, but that I should refer myself to the Neurology Department. How I was meant to do that I haven’t the faintest, since I would need to go back to a GP if you didn’t refer me yourself.
Then you uttered the words, “It’s probably just epilepsy.”
The last minute or two of that consultation were a blur – I was too incensed and confused. I left with the promise that despite all your reservations you would look for markers in my blood of an autoimmune condition – I later found out you were testing me for markers of allergies instead of for markers of autoimmune conditions, so it found nothing and you only sent me for a blood test to prove what we both already knew, in order to placate me. I angry cried on the drive home, my mother just as confused as me.
Let’s just recap: You repeatedly cut me off whenever I answered your questions, you lectured me about wasting your time so long that you ended up wasting your own. You blamed lifelong issues on a medication I had been taking for only a year, dismissed my symptoms, sent me for what you knew was an unnecessary blood test and, last but not least: attempted to fob me off by telling me I “probably just” had epilepsy. Now that was just offensive to people who actually have epilepsy, and so incredibly dismissive of the seriousness of that condition – especially since you never did refer me to Neurology.
A month or so after my appointment I received a lengthy letter stating that you could not see anything wrong with me, and essentially that you washed your hands of me entirely. I was so upset I filed a complaint about you with the hospital trust. I don’t know if you ever received any stern words or discipline, and frankly I really don’t care anymore.
I have washed my hands of you now, and I am receiving treatment through a completely different hospital trust, from wonderful doctors now who believe what I say and who trust me, and who I myself trust. I don’t have a diagnosis yet, still, but I’m on my way.
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Thinkstock photo via Minerva Studio.