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When I Have to Fight for Care Because of My Age

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I’ve noticed a few things about being a young adult with chronic illness. One thing I’ve come across is not being taken seriously by medical professionals because I’m “too young to be falling apart” or am accused of being “a bit dramatic” about the pain or symptoms I experience. Because of this, I have to fight to have any diagnostic tests, am treated as a drug or attention seeker, and sent home. 

For example, I have had digestive problems for quite some time now. One night the abdominal pain was so bad I went to the after hours clinic where I was assessed and sent to the emergency room for possible appendicitis. An abdominal CT was ordered with IV contrast. I’m a fairly thin person, though, so the CT wasn’t too helpful because according to the doctor who saw me, my organs were all smushed together which makes it hard to read. I was sent home after some fluids and nausea medication was administered with instructions to come back if the symptoms persisted. I went home, felt worse the next day and went back to the ER that evening. I was ordered another abdominal CT, again with IV contrast, was again told that it was inconclusive and sent home with an antibiotic. I missed several days of work and was sick and in pain but was never referred to a GI specialist or even really treated as if I had anything beyond a common cold. 

I recently requested copies of my medical records in preparation for an appointment I have coming up. On the written report of the first CT scan, it was reported that I had an enlarged liver and thickening of the intestinal wall and should follow up with GI to rule out possible Crohn’s disease. However, the report I got as the patient was that this was probably just normal for me, that my liver has probably always been that way and that it was nothing to worry about. 

Fast forward to this summer. My grandmother was having digestive problems and it had become severe enough that she felt she should see a doctor. She was ordered an abdominal CT scan and the results showed a slight thickening of the intestinal wall. Sound familiar? She was promptly made an appointment to see a GI specialist. The only apparent difference in our cases was age. We had the same symptoms, the same tests, and nearly exactly the same results, but I was sent home with no further care offered. 

Am I saying my grandmother shouldn’t get the care she needs? Absolutely not. I am saying that just because I am a mostly healthy looking 23-year-old does not mean that what is going on with me is just “my normal” and that I was “probably born that way.” 

I know I am only 23. I know I should be healthy. I know I look normal. I know all of this better than anyone else because I wake up every single day in what should be some of the best years of my life and wonder why I have to be stuck in a body that I cannot understand. I want more than anyone else to be a run-of-the-mill woman working a job and having fun with friends and making memories that don’t involve doctors. When I leave the hospital or doctors office I don’t get to forget about that young girl who can’t be explained. I don’t get to go about my day after dismissing that girl who is just dramatic. This is my reality. I live this way all day, every single day. 

I don’t want your judgement or your pity or your opinion on the validity of my concerns. I do, however, need your help. I cannot start my own IV and give myself fluids. I can’t get the pain under control by myself. I can’t look inside my own body and figure out why it is malfunctioning. I need you for that. So for just a few seconds, can we forget that I am young? Forget your judgement of my appearance. Just help me. Please don’t send me home without answers, and if you can’t find answers, at least don’t add to my pain. Don’t make me feel more alone. Please don’t make me feel worthless. Don’t make me feel unheard. Just help me. 

Originally published: September 26, 2016
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