The difference between being a mystery and being a case study

When my doctor asked if he could discuss my case in the doctors’ case study meeting, I felt sort of glad. That’s been hard to explain to my healthy family and friends, but to me, it makes perfect sense.

For years my symptoms were dismissed. I was labeled a mystery. One doctor told me there was nothing anyone could do to help me and I should stop seeking medical help. The attitude could be summed up as, “If we can’t label it, we’d rather not think about it.”

The first time I felt like a case of interest was about six years ago. I’d had a biopsy done of some skin on my breast. They thought it could be cancer. I waited and waited and waited for the biopsy result. Finally, late on the day the result was due, I called the doctor. She apologized. It had taken several different pathologists to figure out what I had, because it turned out to be something very rare. It was benign, just hard to label. When I went back to get the stitches out, she explained that the pathologist had been excited to see this rare thing he’d only ever read about. It’s so rare, most pathologists don’t get to see it. And she asked if she could take a picture of the remaining patch on my breast for his files.

The thing is, at that point, we already had a diagnosis. The mystery was solved. This time it’s different.

Before I left my doctor’s office┬áthe other day, he asked if he could discuss my case in their case study session. He promised he wouldn’t use my name, but that wasn’t what I was thinking about. I was thinking about why he wanted to use my case. I had a rare confluence of medications, symptoms, and test results. I had diagnosed sleep apnea that was perfectly treated with a CPAP machine, but after a couple months the CPAP stopped working for me. The results showed odd breathing patterns. I had recently gone off of my progesterone prescription, which can be known to have an effect.. The timing is rare enough, but I took a bio-identical progesterone, which is very rarely prescribed. To see a confirmed case of sleep apnea produce these odd breathing patterns would be interesting on its own, but to have the progesterone prescription affecting this was unheard of.

On the one hand, it sucks to be in a situation like this, where there’s no known solution. On the other hand, my doctor isn’t dismissing me. Quite the opposite: he wants to study me. He does research in addition to seeing patients, so this could be to my advantage. I’m going to have another sleep study. Usually sleep studies are supervised by technicians, but mine will be supervised by the two doctors I saw on Friday. They do this with very few patients, and while I wish I didn’t need the special treatment, I’m very grateful to be getting it.

My first choice would be to have my breathing problems resolve themselves. But since that’s very unlikely, having a top doctor monitoring me while I sleep, adjusting CPAP settings on the spot, trying different mask types, and doing all he can to find a cause and a solution to this problem is by far the best second choice I could have. Hell, I would never have even thought such a thing was possible.

After so many doctors dismissing me because I’m a mystery, I’m thrilled to have a doctor who would rather study me than dismiss me. So I’m glad to be a case study. Maybe it means I’ll finally get some answers.

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4 Responses to The difference between being a mystery and being a case study

  1. Karen J says:

    Oh, DEFINITELY Happy Dance for you, CR!

    Bonus: many, many brains working on finding possible solutions for you!
    Even better, if it gets published… world-wide “Put our heads together…”

  2. Julie Ryan says:

    It’s not great that you don’t know what’s going on, but it’s great that you have a doctor who cares enough to keep digging! Something I know we all wish we had.

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