I lied. It’s a little about luck. But mostly it isn’t. Mostly it’s about research and persistence and organization and all sorts of other things.
I have some really great doctors. I feel so lucky to have them. My friends with chronic illnesses say I’m lucky to have them. But the truth is, luck had little to do with it.
I’ve worked damn hard to get this line-up of doctors on my side, and I had to go through a lot of shitty doctors over the years.
First I spent years in a system where I could only see doctors within that group. Twice I got referred to specialists outside that group because they didn’t have anyone to help me, but each time I only saw that specialist once. And in hindsight, I realize that those specialists had really been on to something each time. Damn. My diagnoses got delayed for many years because I played by the rules and stayed in that group.
Then I moved, and I didn’t live anywhere near that group. Since I was a student (in graduate school) I was able to stay on my parents’ insurance, and since I was out of state I was allowed to see another doctor and insurance would reimburse me. I decided to use this to my advantage. It was a conscious decision.
Back then I thought that the pain was my only treatable symptom, so I went on a national arthritis group’s web site and saw that they mentioned rheumatologists. I’d never seen a rheumatologist, except for one of those outside, 1-time referrals, and all he did was rule out Lupus. Yes, I’d had more than 10 years of joint pain and hadn’t been examined by a rheumatologist. It sure was in a shitty system.
I found a list of local rheums, made a lot of phone calls, found one that my insurance would reimburse me for, and made an appointment. Within a few weeks I had my first diagnosis: autoimmune disease. Shameful that it took more than 10 years, but I finally had it! It wasn’t in my head!
I was lucky. I was also opportunistic.
A few years back it was obvious I wasn’t absorbing iron properly. I tried every type of supplement. I ate red meat and spinach. But my ferretin was still way too low. I asked around and researched and found a great hematologist. On my way to the appointment, I realized I never got a referral from my primary care physician! Without that referral, insurance wouldn’t pay for it. Damn! So I called up the office and they wouldn’t give me the referral because this doctor was at a different hospital and they got a lot of pressure to only give referrals to doctors at their own hospital. But I already had this appointment, I was in the car already headed over, and this guy was supposed to be really good. She wouldn’t budge. So I fired her. I immediately looked for a new doctor.
In case you’re wondering, when I arrived at the hematologist’s office I was basically in tears. I had waited 6 months to see this doctor, and now I didn’t have a referral. They called out their billing specialist from the back office. He was a nice guy and reassured me that they’d work it out. I saw the hematologist. He ordered iron infusions and they helped. The billing specialist also recommended his own PCP, who I switched to immediately. (That didn’t work out, but that’s another story.)
I didn’t liked my doctor, so I found someone else.
Years before that I wanted to see a specific endocrinologist, but my doctor wouldn’t give me a referral. I tried other doctors with no luck. So I reverse engineered it – I called that endocrinologist’s office and asked which doctors give referrals to him. His administrator wasn’t allowed to tell me that, of course, but she said that she could tell me that she and her coworkers all saw Dr. J and loved her, and that they recommended her. Sure enough, I loved Dr. J, and she gave me that referral to the endo.
I went to a lot of trouble to find a doctor who would give me the specific referral I wanted.
Now I just started with a new doctor who I love. I love the approach of his entire office. I love that we have conversations about my treatment as equals. I tell him about research I’ve read and he listens respectfully, then counters with his own argument. He’s glad that I debate with him. I wanted to see him years ago but I had doubts about leaving the hospital network I was in. I should have done it anyway. Now my PCP can’t read the notes or tests from my specialists and they can’t read his because they’re in different hospital networks. That means I have to be the one to ferry records back and forth. It’s a pain in the ass, but it’s worth it. I love this guy, and I’m certain my treatment will be much better. I waited longer than I should have, but at least I finally made the switch.
I took a chance and it was worth it. Sometimes it’s not, but I have to try.
I know that some people have fewer options. There’s only one specialist within 50 miles. Or their national health insurance assigns doctors to them and they aren’t allowed to switch. But I also know that sometimes we follow rules or conventional guidelines when we shouldn’t. Sometimes we have to find loopholes. Sometimes we need to ask for help. I have found many workarounds to the “rules” over the years.
It doesn’t always work out in my favor. I admit that. But I also know that almost every single health improvement I’ve had has been because I did my own research and pushed to find the doctors who would give me the tests and treatments that I felt I should try.
I have a kick-ass team of doctors now. But that didn’t happen by accident. I worked fucking hard to make it happen.
What has your experience been? What will you do to make your own luck? Please share in the comments. We can learn through each others’ experiences!