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Victim of the Stigma

Well, I survived the surgery. And as expected, he didn’t find anything out of the ordinary.  But then again, he wasn’t expecting to.  He hinted a few times to me, over the past few appointments I’ve met with him, that this could all be caused by my anxiety.  This always makes me so angry, not because it’s not a possibility, but because it seems like it is the default answer that everyone gives.

He gave me a copy of the letter he wrote to my family doctor after he initially met with me.  In the letter, he commented on the fact that I have anxiety, that I am taking medication for it, and that I am seeing someone about it.  he then goes on to say that I have a normal physical exam and that he believes that my pain is caused because my anxiety needs to be better controlled.  He was willing to offer me aggressive investigations to “ease my mind.”  He suggested that if everything comes back normal, I should work on better controlling my anxiety.  You have no idea how angry and frustrated and hurt I was to read this.

I remember telling him about my anxiety during the first consultation.  I saw this little “switch” go off in his head and the look in his eyes changed slightly, like he had already made up his mind about my pain before giving my assessment a fair shot.  Interestingly, I noticed the same look in the eyes of all the other doctors whom I’ve seen regarding this problem.  In fact, the only two people who don’t seem to think this is an anxiety problem are my family doctor and my psychiatrist… the two people who know me and my anxiety the best.

I hate telling people that I have anxiety and this is the reason why.  I have dealt with anxiety for many many years and I know how my body responds ot anxiety and stress.  I am currently doing more to deal with my anxiety than I ever have in the past, yet because I “suffer” from anxiety, all my bodily complaints are automatically caused by anxiety.

I was on the fence about having this surgery done in the first place.  I really felt uneasy about having it done when there was a good chance that everything would be normal.  I probably wouldn’t have had it done if I knew that my surgeon was doing it to “ease my mind” and not because he thought there might actually be a “real” cause for my pain.

I am a victim to the stigma of anxiety.  I woke up this morning in a lot of pain from the surgery and it feels like I’ve woken up with a bad hangover and the guy who said he loved me last night, is now nowhere to be found.

12 thoughts on “Victim of the Stigma

  1. Ugh. That pisses me off for you. JHC. It always seems like when you need them to take your mental health seriously, they won’t, but when you need them to take a physical complaint seriously, they blame your mental health. As a doctor and a woman, that must make you doubly furious.

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    1. Yes, it really does. I just keep trying to justify to myself, in my anger, that at least it is a learning opportunity for me. I hope I NEVER make my own patients feel this way.

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    1. The interesting thing is that I vented about this to K via text, and her reply was that a surgeon wouldn’t do a surgery without an indication and that a normal laparoscopy doesn’t meant it wasn’t indicated… It’s like the surgeon in her completely missed my point.

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  2. I am sorry that they are falling back on that. You are right, about the stigma. Every issue I have had I get asked “is it anxiety?”

    Well, I don’t know, why don’t you tell me since apparently they think anxiety takes on 100 different forms?

    Ugh. I hope you recover from your surgery quickly and find some relief soon. Best of luck with your matches today too.

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  3. Sorry to hear about this.

    I think it’s wonderful that you say you want to never treat your own patients the way you have been treated. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but one day, there *will* be a patient in your office, complaining of chronic pelvic pain, who also just happens to have anxiety, and despite everything you just said, you *will* have that moment where you turn off and believe it’s the patient’s anxiety causing the problem. It happens to all of us. I’m sorry that you are on the receiving end as the patient. Having said that, maybe you’ll be the one physician NOT to “go there” with your patients. I think that would be amazing.

    Now, I’m not saying that YOUR anxiety is causing YOUR abdominal pain, I only mean to highlight that when doctors can’t find a physical cause for chronic pain, we often have to look at the psychological issues the patient may have. It’s not fun for the doctor or the patient. Trust me when I say, I have been there (as the physician) and it’s deeply frustrating. As physicians, we want to help our patients to the best of our abilities. I have found though, that in a select few, we just can’t find the cause of their pain.

    I really wish your surgeon could have given you better news.

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    1. I’m not upset that he couldn’t give me better news… I’m upset that he judged me, right from the beginning. This would have been totally different if he said this to me after the surgery, and he actually believed tha my pain might be something “real.”

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      1. I totally get it. It’s not right for physicians to judge their patients before getting the entire clinical picture. (And it’s even worse for him to have done it to a future colleague). But again, I think it’s a bit naive to think you’re not going to do the same to a patient in the future. We are human, first of all, and we all judge. The fact that you are aware of it, especially as it happened to you, will likely prevent you from doing the same but there will come a time when you are finding yourself judging a patient before you even get their entire clinical history. It happens to the best of physicians.

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  4. Ugh…that is super annoying. I’ve been a victim of the stigma too and so commiserate with you first hand. In my case, we eventually found the medical, physical cause. I hope you will too.

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  5. This is such a common problem, and in today’s world of fractured care, I imagine it is getting worse. Most doctors don’t have the time to get to know their patients well enough, so it’s hard to be critical of them, but I understand your fury.

    Did they remove your appendix? Maybe it looked fine but your body was reacting to it’s presence in some way and you will feel better now. I hope so.

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