At the end of December, as my joint pain started to improve, I started having debilitating neck and lower back pain. I knew it wasn’t my UCTD, but still tried to let the Prednisone and Tramadol take care of it. They didn’t touch it. I couldn’t sleep or work, so I mentioned it to the APRN I see at my primary doctor’s office during my followup with her for my Tramadol refill.
I told her that I’d been taking Advil for it, which helped a little, but I wasn’t sure how much I could safely take. Her response? “Just don’t take too much.”
“Yes, but… how much is too much?”
“Just don’t take too much. The Prednisone will help it,” she insisted.
“I’ve been on Prednisone for a month. This is a new issue.”
“The Prednisone will help it.”
A week later, my joint pain continued to improve while my neck and lower back continued to be debilitatingly painful. Since the APRN had refused to offer me any real advice or treatment, and I wouldn’t be seeing my rheumatologist for another two weeks, I tried ice, heat, more Advil, rest. It didn’t improve. On a Wednesday night, the pain got so bad I couldn’t even focus on the TV show that I was trying to watch.
I decided to go to the emergency room—which apparently was a mistake.
This morning, during my followup with my APRN for my monthly Tramadol refill, she asked if I’m seeing any other doctors. Confused, I said, “Just my rheumatologist,” which she should’ve already known.
“Are you getting any other prescriptions?” she asked.
Still very confused, I replied with my usual list: Prednisone, Plaquenil and, recently, Flexeril from my rheumatologist (I’ll get to that in a moment).
“You got a narcotic,” she said.
I’d honestly forgotten about the ER visit. During my followup with my rheumatologist, I told him how the APRN had brushed me off, how the ER had flat out asked me what I wanted them to do for me, and asked him about Flexeril. My rheumatologist wrote me a prescription for it and, within less than two weeks, my neck and lower back were back to normal.
I told the APRN that yes, I’d been to the ER, and yes, they’d prescribed me Vicodin, which I didn’t want.
“Then why did you fill it?” she asked.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but have I done something wrong? If you remember, I came in here to see you and asked you about my neck and back, and you just told me not to take too much Advil. So yes, I went to the ER.”
I did what I had to do so that I could get some relief.
As usual, she brushed me off, speaking as if I hadn’t said anything. She again started lecturing me, saying that I can’t take Tramadol and Vicodin together.
“I didn’t,” I said, “and the ER doctor knew my current medications and said that it was okay.” I also told her that my rheumatologist prescribed me Flexeril and that worked, that it was all I’d wanted all along.
She then lectured me about dependence on Tramadol, how I can’t go to the ER, and can’t get anymore prescriptions, or she won’t refill Tramadol for me anymore.
“I’ve been taking Tramadol for my arthritis for years,” I told her, “and I’ve never had any trouble with it, nor do I have any history of substance abuse.”
Ignoring that, she started talking to me about Tylenol and Advil. Even though she could have looked in my chart to see all of the various medicines and treatments I’ve tried over the past decade, I explained to her again that OTC pain relievers and NSAIDs don’t help. She then started talking about a new NSAID with an antacid, and how my insurance doesn’t cover it, but next time I’m going to try it.
She also interrogated me about why I waited so long to come in for a refill. I called a week and a half ago for an appointment and today was the earliest they could give me. How is that my fault?
It seemed like she wants to take me off Tramadol, which has long been a happy medium for me. It doesn’t completely take away my joint pain, but it helps enough so that I can function (unless I’m in a flareup). I’ve tried multiple OTC and prescription NSAIDs over the years, all of which she could see in my chart. None of them have worked, which is why I started taking Tramadol.
I was really confused and once again felt like she wasn’t listening to me. Since I haven’t slept these past couple of nights, I just didn’t have it in me to explain once again everything she already knows, things that we’ve already discussed multiple times.
On my way out, I went the wrong way. I’ve been in so many doctors’ offices lately, my exhausted pea brain is directionally challenged. She condescendingly pointed me in the right direction, as if I wasn’t already mortified enough. I stopped at the front desk to make my followup appointment for next month, rather than calling in to schedule it later. Before I left, the receptionist stopped me and asked me to sign a paper.
Again confused, I sat down and read through the three-page document—an agreement about narcotics, with a long list of restrictions. I can’t even fill my prescription at a different pharmacy. What happens if we were to move, or if I wanted to fill it at Stop & Shop while I get groceries?
I know all of this is coming from the new regulations—and of course lawmakers didn’t consider chronic illness patients—but her attitude toward me has always been dismissive. Today I just felt completely dehumanized; she treated me like a liar, like a criminal.
Yet every time my husband has seen her and expressed his health issues and concerns, she’s been attentive and quick to work out a treatment plan for him.
I’m glad Mike’s finally getting things taken care of, but previously he hadn’t been to a doctor in over 15 years. I have a long history of having an autoimmune disease and documentation of seeing specialists and trying different treatments. When I see her, my concerns are dismissed; she flat out told me that I have “too much going on,” so she doesn’t “want to touch me.” Yet Mike has even more health issues than I do, and she told him that she would take care of everything.
I’m tired of being treated like a liar and a criminal. I’m tired of being dehumanized, having my pain and concerns dismissed over and over. I’m tired of sexism, ableism, and ageism in the healthcare field. I’m tired of playing this game.
I don’t have it in me anymore. I really, really don’t.
The worst part is, I can’t even just switch doctors, try to find someone who will listen to me and actually read my chart. The APRN told me that she got a letter saying that I’d filled a prescription for Vicodin, and told me that if I see any other doctors or get any other prescriptions, she’ll get another letter.
Which means that, if I change doctors, it’ll just look bad on my end; I’ll just look like I actually am drug-seeking.
No matter what I do, no matter how pro-active I am in my health, I’ll always just be a liar.