I show up to the emergency room in jeans, a nice blouse, my hair and makeup done. Maybe because I don’t appear to be ill, you roll your eyes when I attempt to tell you my symptoms. I try to explain I’ve had an infection for a month now, and four rounds of different antibiotics haven’t helped. I try to explain the last medicine I took, I barely kept down due to a chronic illness called gastroparesis.
If you checked your medical files, you would see I’ve been to the emergency room over a hundred days in the last two years. You would see in my file that I had a GJ feeding tube for eight months, and old blood work would show you that at one point in time, my organs were failing. You would see that I not only have gastroparesis, but other chronic conditions as well. Two minutes and a quick glance at my file would’ve told you all you needed to know.
I try to explain I have a weakened immune system and I’m having a hard time functioning with an infection that won’t go away. I tell you the medicine only makes me feel worse, so I really don’t want to keep trying different medicine only to find out it only masked some symptoms, but you tell me it’s not unusual for multiple medicines not to work for a single infection. You tell me my only option is to take a different antibiotic to see if it works. Instead of trying to think of other solutions or bouncing ideas off a co-worker, you ignored my pleas. I’m worried, frustrated, exhausted and defeated. I quietly ask if this medicine will hurt my stomach, and you say, “There’s no way to tell until you take it” and laugh dismissively. I wonder why there is no compassion in your eyes.
I agree to the prescription, knowing I’ll do my own research at home, and I wait to be discharged. I try to comfort myself with excuses like, “She probably had a long shift” and “Even doctors have bad days,” but this isn’t my first disheartening encounter with medical professionals. So I go home in the same amount of pain I was in when I arrived, but I leave with a frustration and anger that only a chronically ill person could understand. I know your job is demanding and hard, but so is mine. The only difference is I didn’t apply for this job, and I can’t quit even if I wanted to. Every trip to the doctor’s office or hospital requires me to educate trained professionals who studied medicine for years. It’s exhausting to be in constant pain and have the ones who are supposed to make you better, have no clue what to do with you. Even worse, have them dismiss you.
So on behalf of every person with chronic illness out there, I have a simple request:
Please treat me like I was your daughter. I know you would go above and beyond for your own child. Please remember I am someone’s child, and this could easily be your daughter in my place. Please don’t let the harsh reality of emergency medicine turn you cold. You don’t have to hold my hand during blood draws or spend extra time in my room, but a simple, “Don’t worry, we will figure this out and get you feeling better!” can help. Please don’t treat me like a number in a hospital bed. I know you have many patients, but don’t forget I’m more than a number: I’m a human being in pain. And lastly, please don’t ever think you understand what I go through on a daily basis better than I do. When you leave the hospital, you leave all the sickness behind. When I leave the hospital, I take it all with me.
Originally published on The Mighty