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To the Emergency Room Doctor Who Dismissed Me as a Drug Seeker

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I understand. I do. You doctors are under a lot of pressure these days about your opioid prescriptions. It’s been all over the headlines. I also understand that in the emergency department, you see people coming in for a quick fix. I know the drill. I’ve ended an intimate relationship over my own pain medication going missing from my purse. I get it. However, I do think there are actually a few things you don’t quite “get.”

For starters, I’ll note that my main complaint at triage was not pain, and while I did mention that I was in pain during the course of my triage exam, I also expressed the fact that I drove myself and therefore did not want mind-altering substances so I would be able to drive myself back home.

I came in with vision problems, extreme pressure in my head and what I swear is increased pressure in my spinal column. I had numbness and tingling in my hands and feet, vertigo, hand tremors, and my legs partially stopped working for a moment today. They went heavy and limp and half numb. Those might not be emergent symptoms to you, but they freaked me out! I’m a single mom of three kids. I can’t have body parts randomly giving out on me without explanation! I came as soon as I could, when I had time, and hopefully you would have time, to run some tests. I wanted to leave with answers. What I left with were vision problems, extreme pressure in my head and spine, hand tremors, and legs that went funny as the discharge nurse was walking me out the shortcut. At least the nurses were freaking awesome, as always!

Instead of ordering a simple test, you completely dismissed me. Even after I told you I wasn’t there for your drugs, you belittled me. Instead of providing care and compassion for someone who has been desperately fighting through bureaucratic red tape while still hoping for treatment, you added a whole new mess of red tape. Now thanks to you, I’ve got an ER visit as a drug seeker in my medical file. That is going to affect how I am treated at every emergency room I go to, no matter why I’m there. I actually do have several medical conditions which are commonly treated with narcotic pain medications. I also have a few conditions that cause vomiting. There are times when I can’t keep down my medications. So next time I have to go to the ER because I’ve vomited my legally prescribed and responsibly taken medication, instead of being treated with care and compassion as a person who is facing a lifetime battling chronic illness, I’ll be treated like an addict looking for a fix.

In the chronic illness and chronic pain community, we measure the energy it takes to get us through our days in spoons, and I used spoons I didn’t have in order to drag myself out and go. Did you notice I was wheeled in by medics? That’s because I nearly collapsed in the parking lot, but that’s not emergent. Move along. Nothing to see here. Just a druggie wanting a scrip. I’ve been putting this thing off for months, and no wonder! I’m hurting even worse now, from sitting on the gurney for so long, waiting to be discharged after receiving no medical care.

No, you don’t know what it cost me. I did tell you I had to wait on a sitter for my kids, but what I didn’t tell you is my daughter was still awake when I left. She’s 2 and we’ve never spent more than an hour or so apart in her entire life. Do you have any idea what it cost me to walk out the door and leave her behind, crying that she wanted to go with Mommy? How unbelievably selfish I felt for leaving her? As a mother with chronic illness, I’m often putting my own needs aside in order to care for my children and it took quite a bit of courage to talk myself into leaving my daughter in tears, in order to go take care of my own needs. But I told myself, “You’ll have some answers when it’s over, so it will be worth it.” I’m not used to being so drastically wrong.

People like me who have an invisible illness often spend years of our lives having doctors tell us it’s all in our heads or we’re making it up for attention or we’re drug seekers until we finally find a doctor who has enough training and compassion to listen to us long enough to find an answer. Even after a diagnosis, many people with chronic illness are still left fighting for recognition in the medical community. Even with medical codes in our charts and diagnoses we can’t even pronounce, and a list of ailments recognized by the ADA and the Social Security Administration, even then we’re faced with judgement, discrimination and mismanagement of care by doctors like you. It takes me weeks, sometimes months, to build up the courage to even make an appointment with a new doctor. I have anxiety attacks on the way to every doctor’s appointment, even ones I’ve been seeing for years. Doctors like you are the reason I’ve been putting this off for so long, and the reason I didn’t want to go tonight. And you’re the reason I wish I had stayed home in my comfy bed and suffered in peace.

I want you to know that even if I had been a drug seeker, I still deserved decent medical care and respect. I had other issues besides pain. I complained of vision problems and sensitivity to light and you stood with a fluorescent light behind your head and expected eye contact. Even if you had no respect for me as the person you suspected I was, you were still supposed to be a professional and perform your job. I got more helpful and courteous medical advice from the discharge nurse who spent more time with me and showed more care for my well-being than you did.

I know you aren’t going to see this. I know you aren’t going to learn anything from tonight’s events. But I know I learned a couple of things. I learned I’m stronger than I thought, to be able to walk out of there with limited use of my legs but my head held high. And I learned I actually can be more passionate about patient rights. I have a feeling that my words are about to reach a lot farther than I could imagine. I know my story isn’t the only one of its kind. Tragically, I’m positive it won’t be the last. But if I share my story, and the next person shares their story, and we all keep sharing our stories, maybe eventually, someday, enough people will get pissed off that things will start to change and doctors who dismiss patients’ pain will be out of a job. Until then, my readers and all their friends are more than welcome to share this.

A version of this post originally appeared on Spoonies for Life.

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.


Originally published: June 8, 2016
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