I’ve been battling chronic illness for years.
Why won't doctors just believe me?
I’m a sick person. I go to the doctor a lot. I’m not shy about things that I need, or when something doesn’t feel right, and I usually have the language to articulate what I think is going on. I’m almost forty years old! Yet one of the things that is most baffling to me anytime I seek care is how often something I say is received with skepticism. And it’s not like I’m in there saying something outrageous, no phantom ills that require massive amounts of drugs with a high street value—unless they’re treating sinus infections with heroin these days? I go to the doctor for regular shit, like my irregular shits, and more often than not the response I’m met with is “Really?”
I know that women are all superheroes in our impenetrable armor (read: overpriced full-coverage bras), but we get hurt! The flu knocks us out! Our bones break! And we don’t need to lie about how bad the pain is or where it’s coming from! I have never been sexually assaulted, but I imagine it’s a similar feeling, the one that follows the incredulity if not outright disbelief you face after admitting something that is happening to you. My response to them is always, “Why? Literally who does it hurt to take me at my word?”
At the time I had no idea that I had Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. It can affect any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus, but is particularly fond of the small intestine. At least mine is, and she is located in my ileum, the end piece of my small intestine that connects it to my large one. Potential side effects: bone loss, eye problems, back pain, arthritis, liver swelling, gallstones, and skin problems. My joints hurt. And my gnarly skin is disgusting. Can’t wait until my eyes fall out of their sockets and my bones shatter every time a strong wind blows.
The first time I limped into the emergency room, clutching my abdomen and trying not to breathe too deeply lest lightning bolts of agony rip through my insides, I was in a lot of pain. And since it was the first time anything like that had ever happened to me, I didn’t have the words to explain what was actually going on. I just cried and cupped my stomach and begged for someone to make it stop. One of the first doctors I saw over the course of that interminably long evening, a young man whom I’d never met, who had the last few years of my body’s history attached to a clipboard in his hand, asked whether I might be exaggerating the severity of my pain. Fudging it a little bit, you know, to get my hands on some morphine.
First of all, it’s not like they give you a whole lot. At least not enough to fake the most brutal intestinal pain of my life. I feel like there are way less dramatic ways to go about getting a couple pain pills! Second, imagine having to convince someone, in an emergency room of all places, that you are hurting. How do you prove that it feels like your internal organs are in a vice, and why is your word not good enough? I’m an expert in one thing: me. You’re gonna have to trust that I know what I’m talking about.
Read full story by Samantha Irby I’ve been battling chronic illness for years. Why won’t doctors just believe me?