When I Found Myself Asking My ER Doctor, 'You're Actually Listening to Me?'
I was recently diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) after a lifetime of doctors telling me that my symptoms were stress related. For years I was told it was all in my head so I got to the point where I blamed myself. I was sick and it was all my fault because I couldn’t cope with my life.
Yesterday I was having chest and stomach pain that couldn’t be managed at home. I drank every fluid in the house and took numerous nausea pills and remedies. Nothing was working and my pain was getting worse. My husband started commenting on how pale I was and that’s when I knew, it was time to visit the emergency room. This would be my first trip since the diagnosis.
Because of my habit of blaming myself for my health problems it took me hours to get up and walk down the street to the hospital. I didn’t want to go because I couldn’t hear “it’s all in your head” again. I had articles about POTS in my bag just in case the doctor didn’t know what I was talking about and my teenager came along to keep me company. I was so anxious about going, but having my daughter with me kept me from freaking out.
I was quickly triaged, had an EKG, and brought back to a room. So far the nursing staff was very nice. I had been in for migraines in the past and had been treated awfully so the helpfulness was unexpected.
But the real test would be the doctor.
Then she came in, all bright and bubbly. It looked like she was straight out of med school. She looked at all of my normal readings on the monitors and started asking me questions.
“I was just diagnosed with POTS, we haven’t even fleshed out a treatment plan yet.” I’m clutching the articles, I’m going to have to explain what this disease is at length.
The doctor smiles, “So we’ll give you some fluids.”
I was stunned. “You’re actually listening to me?” I couldn’t help but say it and I was on the verge of tears but my daughter was watching.
“That’s what I’m here for. Anything else you need?”
Again, shock. “Can I get some Zofran?” I was pretty sure I was pushing my luck.
“Absolutely.” The doctor patted me on the shoulder. “We’ll get you fixed up and out of here.”
It was so surreal to actually have a doctor listen to what I had to say and to quickly work to fix it. It validated me and what I was going through. I have never had a doctor do this, certainly not an ER doctor.
Then it came time to put in an IV. It took three nurses before the doctor was called back in to help. Immediately when she came bouncing in I apologized for being difficult. It was my gut reaction.
Her response stuck with me. “You are not being difficult. This is the POTS, not you.”
I cried. Even though my child was sitting there, I fell apart. None of my experience was in my head, it wasn’t me! I cried for a bit and the IV was finally placed after six blown veins, that’s when the doctor pulled up a seat. She explained the pros and cons of PICC lines and a port because I was such a hard stick.
I barely registered what she was saying because I was so overwhelmed by having a helpful doctor.
After lots of fluids and nausea meds I was discharged with instructions to ask about regular infusions and a port.
To that doctor: You showed me what healthcare should look like and you have no idea what you did for me. I was so scared of walking into that emergency room but you quickly sprung into action by assuring me that it wasn’t anything wrong with my head. My problems were real. From now on I’ll step up to doctors and say that something is wrong. Thank you for giving me that courage and validation.
Getty Image by Thomas Northcut
This story originally appeared on Facebook.