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

January 7, 2015

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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