RA Diaries: Bedside manners

I’ve been dealing with more doctors than usual lately. This isn’t out of choice, but necessity; there’s a major joint replacement in my future. I’m really not thrilled about this, but have accepted it. It seems you can’t really expect to have RA for 30-plus years without parts wearing out, and my number is up.


The toughest part — well, apart from accepting the fact that major surgery and recovery is going to be disrupting my life and finances for a while — has been picking the right doctor to do it. Now, my rheumatologist recommended a couple of names, and, since I’ve had this doctor for many years, and like and trust this doctor, I felt compelled to consult these guys.

The thing is, though, that my doctor, and these surgeons, are not in my city, but in a city 30 miles from my current home, a city I lived in and worked in for quite a few years. But this is Southern California, and here a 60-mile round trip is not considered a big deal. Still, getting stuck on the freeway with a healing joint is not my idea of fun, and any follow-up visits or rehab would eat up the entire day.

At any rate, I went to the first guy on the rheumatologist’s list, in hopes that he could help me with Glenn, aka my chronically painful knee. I had to wait an hour and a half to see this doctor (subsequent research has shown he is one of the best knee doctors in SoCal, so it’s no wonder he’s busy). Part of that wait, though, was made better by the surgeon’s young PA, who was sweet and understanding and improved the x-ray-cluttered landscape considerably with his boyish good looks.

Unfortunately, the knee surgeon told me I was not a good candidate for an operation, but that Glenn might very well improve once I replaced that other joint. I’m not going to name that joint at this time — it’s my body’s equivalent of Lord Voldemort. The knee surgeon, however, referred me to a colleague of his, who might be able to deal with the knee and the Joint That Shall Not Be Named, maybe even at the same time.

I hesitated because of the commute thing (any knee procedures would have been done as an outpatient, while the Joint That Shall Not Be Named requires several days in hospital), but went ahead and saw the colleague.

Ugh. That was a mistake. While he only kept me waiting half an hour, this doctor was of the kind I dread the most — the kind who has no bedside manner whatsoever, and treats patients like broken objects that may or may not be fixed, not like individuals who may be scared and hurting.

Now, I realize surgeons are a different breed. Other doctors have been known to shake their heads over surgeons’ massive egos and readiness to cut open anything that moves. But this guy went a step further than ego. Sure, he sneered at me when I asked if the cortisone shot he was about to give Glenn had any side effects (“You shouldn’t believe what you read on the Internet!” Umm, no, I ask that about any new drug I am given). And he referred, charmingly, to the remittive agents I am currently taking as “poisons.”

No, the worst part was when he looked over my other joints, and proclaimed them “awful” and “terrible.” He told me I have the mobility of a 60-year-old (never mind that he never asked to see me walk — the whole consultation took place while seated). After numerous comments and sighs and head-shakings, I was ready to suggest he get a shotgun from reception and just put me out of my misery. After all, that’s what they do to horses, right?

I’m not new to unflattering remarks about my joints. But I really didn’t expect them from a doctor with 41 years of experience dealing with various joint injuries. I realize that he mostly treats athletes, who tend to have decent physiques to start with. But I can’t imagine even they would be thrilled by such treatment, particularly since it means the end of their careers.

And I don’t expect this guy to blow smoke up my arthritic ass. I know what I’m dealing with. I’m very aware of my limits. But there are ways of expressing dismay without crushing someone’s spirit. How about: “Yes, there is definitely quite a lot of damage here. Do you have a lot of pain?” Or: “XYZ clinic has been having success replacing this joint, so if the pain and mobility get worse, let me give you their number.”

So to sum up, I’m not giving this man the pleasure of dealing with The Joint Which Must Not Be Named. I did let him inject Glenn, which lasted all of six days. Fortunately, there are many orthopedic surgeons in my area, and I believe I’ve found one. This man told me the same thing as the other two — Glenn may get better once I take care of You Know Who. He suggested I contact his office once I was ready to deal with it.

And his comment on my other extremities?
“That doesn’t look too bad.”

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.

One comment

  • Yeah- as I have been known to say of many surgeons: “He chose the field because the patients are unconscious most of the time he’s in the same room!”
    If he can’t/won’t listen to you (and let’s face it, between your looong experience managing your medical issues and your fearsome intelligence, you don’t exactly fall into the wittering “I posted this on Yahoo questions” demographic of patients!) and he’s that far away, let him annoy someone else. Surely Cedars has someone amazing in that field that you can see? đŸ™‚

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