Trying to find a doctor is a lot like dating. I’ve gone on a hell of a lot blind dates, and I’ve gone to a hell of a lot of doctors. I no longer get butterflies for either. I no longer have a feeling before I meet them of, “Maybe this will be the one.” Nearly all of them have broken my heart.
This week started off with a trip to a new rheumatologist. He was recommended to me by a friend whose mom had seen him, and he managed to treat her for much longer that she would have survived in the hands of another doctor before she succumbed to scleroderma. I read up on him and checked out reviews, and it seemed like he would be interested in solving mysteries. He was a tall, older gentleman with silver hair and a stern face, all business. After we began talking and I produced document after document for him, he began to get quieter, except for repeatedly shaking his head and sighing. I answered all of his questions from memory including lab results. Then he started stuttering. “What – what – what about your MRIs?” I told him the problem was that I had to lay down for them, and the fluid drains off almost immediately, so I don’t feel that they are getting a true picture of what’s happening when I’m upright. Then he started the, “Gosh, I Don’t Know” song.
He finally dropped his pen, turned to me and put his hands on his knees and said, “Has anyone seen anything like this before?” I told him no, and that I had seen a lot of doctors. (My count is 40 to date, including all of the ER doctors that have examined me.) He said it was obvious. Then he asked if I had tried the Mayo. I told him I had been turned down five times including the most recent try on October 2nd. He said, “What in the hell is wrong with them? They’re supposed to be number one in the nation for rare stuff like this.” I told him that I was going to try other avenues, including Johns Hopkins and going to the media to try to get my story out there with the hope that someone would be willing to take my case.
We went through the obligatory motions of the rest of the exam, where I put on a gown and he prodded my joints. I laid down for part of it and he watched my eyes open, and when I sat back up he saw the effects of the CSF pooling and forcing my eyes to droop shut again. I asked him if I could continue coming to his office, even if I saw another doctor, so that I could at least get care for my fibromyalgia because I didn’t especially care for the rheumatologist I had originally seen. He didn’t say anything.
When I got dressed again, he came back in and said, “I don’t have any answers for you. Try Johns Hopkins and see if they will take you on as a charity case since you have no income and medical assistance will only cover the state of Minnesota. I can’t help you.” He wasn’t unkind and I have heard that response many, many times. As I shuffled nearly blind down the hallway, I kept thinking, “This was just another waste of time. Waste of time. Waste. Waste. Waste.” I have gotten better about not crying after every unsuccessful attempt.
So, what’s next? Well, I’ve got to find a rheumatologist who will at least treat the fibromyalgia and not be a jerk. And I have to try to get my stories on local news stations and national talk shows. Everyone keeps saying, “Ellen! Try Ellen! She’s the best!” And I agree that that’s true and her show gives me lots of laughs and smiles, but I’m not sure she is even interested in taking me on, because I don’t have a happy ending. I have sent in a few submissions already. Thanks to the help of my former flame, I’m learning to navigate Twitter and have been trying to get the attention of neurosurgeons and neurologists around the U.S. I have also been tagging the Mayo in tweets about how they determined I’m “too rare” to examine and would anyone else like to take a shot? I’ve started following neurosurgeons and TV stations. I’ve tweeted Johns Hopkins repeatedly. They have a remote referral option that I have to pay for out of pocket, but honestly, I want them to be interested in my case, not just look at me as another number and dismiss me.
I’ve also started following groups that support rare diseases, either with research, treatment or resources. I managed to catch the attention of two of them and they will be publishing my submissions within the next few weeks.
After the unsuccessful visit with the rhuematologist, I sent a message to the neurosurgeon in St. Paul who told me, “Don’t give up. I know it’s been a long time and someone will be able to help you,” asking him if he could refer me to the University of Minnesota to see if I could be studied there. I was told that my case would be sent to the complex specialty care unit; yesterday I received a call and they stated that they wanted to get me in on Monday. I was surprised because I’ve never been able to get in with a specialist without having to wait 2-3 months, but of course I said yes. So I have another “date” Monday.
I also had to talk to my case worker for my disability appeal. I told her that she wasn’t going to see anything new from the rheumatologist, and that I was trying to get into the U of MN in the neurology/neurosurgery unit so I could be studied. She has been super nice to me, but it’s still her job to turn me down for disability. I know I’m going to get another call from Maryland telling me that my case is being rejected again because I don’t have a diagnosis – but it sure as hell isn’t for lack of trying. I’m trying! Seriously, slip into my body for a few weeks, or even a few hours, and you’d cry for your mommy and then tell me to take all my disability pay plus a little extra for having such a hard-ass time.
Finally, I’d like to say in closing: Screw you, Mayo Clinic. I realize that I’m not a wealthy billionaire and I’m not the Dali Lama, but you should take my case and figure out what in the hell is going on. As far as I’m concerned, you reputation for being the best for neurology/neurosurgery is completely undeserved. You just made my life 1,000 times harder. You were my worst no-show.