Dear doctor: Those symptoms you ignored were signs of a real problem

I don’t expect every doctor to know everything there is to know about medicine and health. I don’t even expect them to know everything there is to know in their own specialty. But when I present the same symptom to many doctors, and it’s common enough to be written on one of those silly internet lists, shouldn’t at least ONE DOCTOR have known what was going on??? Or at the very least, they shouldn’t have brushed it off!

Back in my mid-20s my fingernails began to curve. Before that they were pretty typical nails, I think. Then suddenly, they curved downwards as they got longer. The first and middle fingers were the worst on each hand. I just cut them recently so I can’t take a photo today, but trust me on this; it was really noticeable.

I didn’t assume there was a major, life altering problem, but it definitely wasn’t normal, so I showed my doctor. He brushed it off, saying it was nothing. I showed my next doctor after him. Same response. I showed many doctors, both internists and specialists. Some said it was nothing. Others weren’t sure, but said I shouldn’t worry. Not a single one suggested that maybe it should be investigated. A friend said it could be a vitamin deficiency of some sort. My doctor didn’t agree. So what could I do about it? Looking things up online wasn’t so easy just a few short years ago, and I had bigger health problems to worry about.

I came across this short list, What Your Hands Can Reveal About Your Health, a few months ago, and I haven’t been able to forget about it. That’s because it was so clear about this problem that none of my doctors addressed:

Curved nails

Soft nails that curve likes spoons can be a sign of iron-deficiency anemia, says Dr.Leffell. The condition, called koilonychias, can be due to such malnutrition, gastrointestinal blood loss, worms, gastrointestinal malignancy, or celiac disease. See your internist who can check your iron levels.

Now, obviously my doctors screwed up in other ways. I had low ferritin levels for many years, but none of my doctors addressed it. It wasn’t until I sent myself to a hematologist that I finally received the iron infusions that got my levels up to where they should be. And I had symptoms of Celiac Disease for many years, but doctors kept telling me it was IBS, or IBS and reflux, or IBS and stress. Nothing improved until I put myself on a gluten-free diet. So really, the finger nails were just one more symptom that was ignored.

But why were they ignored?

I will never know why multiple doctors chose to brush off my concerns about very real symptoms of very real illnesses. I’ll never know if other patients were similarly dismissed. But I do know that an injustice was done.

I am so grateful that I took my health into my own hands. It’s not easy, and sometimes I forget to fight back, but I’m trying. And every time I come across another symptom that my doctors overlooked or brushed off, it’s a reminder that it is worth every bit of effort I expend to continue pursuing the treatments that believe are best. From now on, I choose to see my curved fingernails as a reminder that I need to make my own decisions about what is relevant to my health. I won’t be brushed off again.

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6 Responses to Dear doctor: Those symptoms you ignored were signs of a real problem

  1. Karen J says:

    Dear CR ~
    Your persistence and dogged tenacity in the face of doctors’ ignorance, stupidity and down-right rudeness is truly an inspiration to *keep fighting* for what we know about our own bodies and how they differ from the imaginary average.

    Thank you for sharing your struggle and set-backs as well as your triumphs with us all!

    Bright Blessings on the spiral road back to happy health ~

    Karen J
    http://www.gofundme.com/j1z7k8

    • chronicrants says:

      Thanks so much Karen!

      I looked at your link, and I’m sorry you’re having such a tough time. But good for you for taking control and working to get on top of things! I’ll pass it along. In the meantime, there’s one expense you might be able to lower: glasses. There are some sites where you can order them. I got a pair for $20 on zennioptical.com that lasted 2 or 3 years and looked great. And a lot of friends have done well with warbyparker.com You still need to see the eye doctor and get a prescription, but if you’re prescription isn’t wildly complicated, these might be much less expensive options. Good luck!!!

  2. You’re absolutely on target. You know your own body better than your doctors do, and you know when something just isn’t right. I’ve had to self-diagnose myself a few times, too. After suffering severe leg cramps at night, I read up on possible causes and realized my body wasn’t metabolizing iron properly due to my UC. I’ve been anemic in the past, but my current iron levels were OK according to blood tests. Still, I put myself on a low dose of iron (only 25 mg, the lowest I could find), and within days my leg cramps ceased. Just to test the theory, I stopped taking the iron and the cramps came back. Put myself back on the iron, and the cramps went away, plus I started to feel generally more energetic. Blood tests aren’t always accurate, and doctors don’t always know everything.

  3. Lorna says:

    It’s sad no one took notice of your nails or the low ferritin. One of the first checks for anaemia here in the UK is to look at your lower eyelids and your hands and nails. I too have a problem with my ferritin stores and have exactly the same nails.
    I am so glad that I met you and your blog, through you fighting it encourages me to fight too!
    Hugs xx

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