Medical PTSD: My Experience with a New Doctor

Around a year ago was when my former family doctor hauled off and read me the riot act about my frequent visits to the Emergency Department. I still feel vulnerable enough about this that it’s hard to write about, which I think is why I used two cliches in that first sentence.

Being reamed out by my docotor

Last February, Dr. S opened a file and with a sort of faux concerned look listed all the reasons why it was inappropriate for me to seek emergency care for the severe migraine attacks I couldn’t eliminate on my own. At first her biggest problem was that I didn’t call to notify her, but as I immediately explained, I did notify my pain specialist and the facility where I go for my CGRP trial. I saw from the stunned look on her face that she had forgotten about the study, but she recovered quickly, continuing to rail at me about the cost to society (since I was on Medicaid) and even used my children against me as she paced, agitated, back and forth in the room. “What do your daughters think, when you are always heading off to the ER?”

Just looking for a place to get help

I began to cry. “They know that I have a disease, and they are happy that there’s somewhere I can go to get help.” I still can’t believe this happened, over a year later. Dr. S then said something about how since I was crying and over-reacting to what she was saying, perhaps I needed psychological care. I knew that was totally uncalled for and it is also one of the worst things to say to someone with migraine (“it’s all in your head”). I looked up at her. “I already am getting psychological care.” Which she knew.

Finding a new doctor

I stormed out of her office and refused to return for any reason. John would be starting a new job with new insurance, so I waited to try to find a new doctor. I did transfer my migraine care over to a local neurologist soon afterward (I had recently left my headache specialist), and Dr. S refilled all my basic meds over the phone for the next year. John started his new job, and I was on fancy new insurance for exactly three months before something went wrong with paperwork and starting January 1 – no insurance.

My local friend Julie, who has migraine disease as well as several other serious chronic illnesses, did a lot of research in looking for a new family doctor for herself, and generously offered to try out a guy that seemed good and report back to me. Her appointment with Dr. C went extremely well. I called and made an appointment for myself, hoping that my insurance situation would be resolved. I had to wait six weeks. When the appointment arrived in mid-March, I still didn’t have insurance.

Nerves kicking in

The day before, I felt the nerves kick in. I talked to Julie again and she was very reassuring, but in the evening I couldn’t stop weeping, symptoms of a sort of medical PTSD from repeated disappointing and terrifying experiences with those in the medical profession. The paperwork was very intimidating, with a page consisting of a sort of controlled substance contract and a promise of none being prescribed at the first visit. It needed a signature. I have my own pain specialist, but I had been hoping to acquire something different for sleep, anxiety, and restless leg syndrome which I decided seemed hopeless, despite Julie’s reassurance he had offered to refill a controlled substance medication of hers (she declined since she gets it from her neurologist).

The morning of the appointment I was shaking and had a hard time stemming the tears which seemed to just pour unabated, but I gathered my paperwork and my mom’s credit card to pay out of pocket for the appointment and dutifully went and sat in the small waiting room of the outdated office building in which Dr. C has his practice. I took scared selfies and posted on Facebook for support, which I received. When I was called back I felt calmer and the nurse was very nice. Dr. C, however, was not.

Another distant and cold interaction

From the start, perhaps because of what I’d written on my medical history and hopes for the day’s visit, he was distant and cold. We discussed my successfully treated conditions (hypothyroidism, depression, gastritis, and my hormone replacement) and that I would need nothing from him for migraine. He seemed tired and irritated and said he supposed there was nothing to change but that he would not prescribe my estradiol patch, which had always come from my family physician, not my OB/GYN. Startled, I asked if he could refill it until my insurance situation had been resolved so that I would not have to make an appointment with my gynecologist without insurance, and he refused. He said one month only.

I sat quietly during the quick exam and knew I would not breathe a word of my insomnia issue. I was already fighting tears again when he said quietly in what I interpreted as a judgmental tone, “And, I have to ask, why did you leave your previous doctor?”

Why the interrogation?

My heart plummeted and the tears I’d been fighting began to leak down my face. I was livid. Our shower faucet is broken. When we finally get a plumber in to fix that, if it is a different one than we used last time, do we get interrogated about why the change? “What happened with your last plumber to make you require my services?” No, they just do the job and are happy to get paid. While initially I had hoped for help with my insomnia and anxiety, I certainly was not asking for any pain medication or help with my complicated migraine disease situation. All I had discussed with him were my few standard prescriptions and desired care for future regular medical issues.

While crying, humiliated, I haltingly told the story of what had happened with Dr. S. Of course, he said nothing, but he also did not look the least bit empathetic or seem to understand. I shrank into myself, all my worst fears having come true, and felt that I never wanted to come back, but yet, I am now stuck with him as my new primary care physician, because I can’t appear to be doctor shopping.

When I left, the bill was $240. I pay only $50 out of pocket to see my neurologist.

When the plumber comes to fix our faucet, I’ll be sure to let you know if I get accused of “plumber shopping.”

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