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What the Doctor Who Evaluated Me for Social Security Should Have Done Differently

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The following is an open letter to the doctor who saw me recently. This doctor was contracted by Social Security to perform an examination and determine my eligibility for SSDI benefits. 

Dear Dr. F.M,

I sat in the exam room, waiting for you to come in and complete your examination for Social Security. You were running behind, but I didn’t mind that at all. I was in pain, but I’m almost always in pain. You stepped inside the room and introduced yourself as “the doctor.” You didn’t give me your name. You didn’t shake my hand. You barely looked at me throughout the appointment. You immediately told me that I needed to stick to answering the questions you asked me. I wasn’t allowed to say anything else.The questions you asked and the manner in which you spoke felt more like a criminal interrogation instead of a medical appointment.

You demanded to know all of my diagnoses, meanwhile you held my information in your hands. I pulled out my most recent medical documentation and read a list of my medical conditions, which include spinal stenosis, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, ADD, hypertension, type II diabetes, and poor renal function. A few words were scribbled on the paper you used, but you didn’t acknowledge what I said, nor did you ask me to provide more detail about it.

Instead, you asked “Why aren’t you working?” Then you interrupted me while I was attempting to answer that question. You wanted me to choose between two medical diagnoses, when both of them negatively impact my ability to work. You disregarded my answer and asked me to perform different physical tasks for you, such as reach down and touch my toes, put my hands over my head, etc. When I didn’t move fast enough for you, you asked me to move faster. I told you that I couldn’t. Your response was frustration.

I told you I was in pain and stiff that morning. You ignored this information. Instead, you forced me to lie flat on my back. I told you that this position hurts because of my stenosis and the curvature of my lower spine. You ignored that and made me lie down flat anyway. You forced me to lift my right leg and then my left. I cried out in pain. You looked at me as though I was faking it and had me sit back up. You offered no help to me as I struggled to follow your directions and lift myself from that position. You also pushed in the bottom of the exam table, therefore I couldn’t use it to help me sit up.

I was asked how often I used my cane, but you only heard part of my answer before you went on to another question. You wanted to see how I walked, so I held onto the walls of your hallway as I tried to amble away from you, and back again. I suppose I didn’t do that fast enough for you.

When I got back into the exam room, I sat down; hoping to get a break from the activity and relieve some of the pain in my lower back. It was then that you said: “You can go home!” That was it. You didn’t conclude anything. You didn’t tell me the next steps to the disability evaluation. I asked, “Is that everything?” You said that I was “done.” You dismissed me. I also get the impression that you believed I was faking the severity of my conditions despite the medical evidence, the testing, and the bloodwork you possessed, coupled with the information I presented to you on that day.

There is a bitter irony, and hypocrisy, in the fact that you took the Hippocratic Oath, but you don’t appear to be living by the tenant of “Do No Harm.”
You harmed me!
You dismissed me!
You disregarded my medical conditions and documentation.
You made me feel like I wasn’t worth your precious time.
How dare you call yourself a healthcare provider when you ignored my health, you didn’t care, and you provided me nothing other than cold-hearted judgment.

I can’t imagine what you are going to say in your report to Social Security. Based on your behavior, I can’t imagine that it would help my case in any way shape or form.

Others have insisted that the reason you behaved that way towards me is because you get a significant number of individuals who may be faking their conditions. I understand that point of view. I don’t agree with it. You don’t stop being a doctor when you get a medical evaluation request. You still have to care. You still have to listen to the patient. You still have to look at the medical documentation in front of you as well as take into account how the patient is presenting on the day of the exam.

If you are going to treat your Social Security referrals in this manner, then you should stop taking these patients. Stop accepting federal money if you are going to devalue the person sitting in your office, asking for help, asking to be heard and believed.

I left your office feeling worse than when I arrived. Not only did the pain in my lower back increase for the rest of the day, but I also experienced an aggravation of my depression and anxiety. Should you continue to do these evaluations, I would ask that you consider the following:

These are some questions that you could have asked me that day:

  1. What is your pain level today – on a scale of one to 10?
  2. What kinds of activities are you unable to perform due to your condition?
  3. What assistive devices do you use? How often do you use them in a day/week?
  4. Tell me about your last job. What were your job duties? What duties can you no longer perform due to your condition?
  5. What kind of interventions help with your diagnoses?
  6.  What condition do you feel limits you the most? Why?
  7. How much can you lift?
  8. How long can you stand before you need a break?
  9. What time of day is more restrictive or painful for you?
  10. What treatments have you had so far to address your conditions?

Had you asked these questions and listened to the answers, you would have fully understood the challenges I face every day. You would have been able to complete the document from Social Security with a clear picture of my condition and my functional limitations. You had every right to test my physical abilities, but when I told you what positions hurt, you should have listened … with care.

You could have introduced yourself … using your name. You could have shook my hand. You could have explained the process, your role, and what you were going to do with me that day. You could have said “Goodbye” and told me the next steps in the process, instead of making me feel as if you were throwing me out of your office. You could have made me feel safe in your medical facility. You could have made me feel heard. I wasn’t asking for much.

I only wanted to feel like a patient, instead of someone that was trying your patience.

Dr. M, I am in pain every single day. I experience pain in my muscles and in my joints. The pain is very real and is usually unrelenting. It keeps me up at night. It keeps me from doing the activities I should be doing on a daily basis. Sir, it hurts to shower, so sometimes I don’t shower every day. It hurts to sit in a chair, even an office chair. Sitting up is painful for me. Walking is painful for me. There are days when I can’t drive because I don’t trust my legs to not have spasms, causing me to get into a car accident. I can’t cook dinner for my family unless I am sitting down, and even then I can only do things for short periods of time. Climbing stairs is hard for me, but not nearly as difficult and terrifying as going down stairs and wondering if my legs will give out on me.

I know I’m not one of of your regular patients, but I am a person. I deserve to be treated with respect. I deserve to be treated like a human being. The truth is that I want to work, but I can’t because I can’t depend on my body.

You have the documentation: MRIs, X-Rays, bloodwork, my history of surgeries, my medication, medical interventions, referrals to specialists for the past several years – all of it points to the fact that my body isn’t capable of doing what it should be doing.

That doesn’t make me scammer trying to cheat the system.
It makes me a person with a disability that needs help.
I am more than a number.
I am more than a referral.
I am more than a questionnaire.
I’m a human.
Next time, treat every person who comes in your door that way – like a person who needs your help. That’s your job. Be thankful that you are capable of working. Some of us don’t have that luxury.

Mrs. Turner
SSDI Applicant
Human Being

Image via contributor

Originally published: April 3, 2022
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