I think that assumption is the first mistake many people make, myself included. And about so many things too. Someone’s background, attitude or how we might be treated in certain situations. But some assumptions matter more than others. For example, if doctors make an assumption when presented with someone with a complicated medical history. ‘Assuming I am just an old lady was your first mistake’, was the slogan on a t-shirt I saw recently, and it really summed up my mood of the moment. This is after a few recent doubtful recent sessions with doctors that left me all fired up! Let me tell you about it.
Assumption Is The First Mistake
Assumptions Made Recently By A Doctor
I have to go back a few months to where I started to feel that little stress screw in the middle of my shoulder blades tighten up. It was while I was asking a specialist about a throat problem I was having. I mentioned that it felt like pressure on my throat on the outside that affected my ability to swallow. ‘Like being strangled?’ he asked. I nodded.
Stand back guys! Far from being a physical problem, this was a panic attack. And a lady of my age (63) ought to be on medication. Did I say, assumption is the first mistake?.
Responding To The Comments
How did I respond? Well, I didn’t bother to argue, what is the point when you have someone with that mentality? We dealt with the reason I was there and left it at that. Fast forward a few weeks and the cause of the problem was found. Chronic inflammation with calcifications of the left sternoclavicular joint. In other words something that swells and pushes on my throat. Nothing to do with a panic attack or needing any form of antidepressant (or being an older person). It gave me great pleasure to write to the doctor I saw before to tell him. His response? ‘Thanks for letting me know’.
Assumption Is Not Unusual
Sadly, this attitude from doctors is not an unusual occurrence in my experience. Both in the UK and Italy. And it is so wearing. It is bad enough being ill without having to fight to be taken seriously by doctors you have turned to for help.
I talked in another blog about how difficult it was to get a diagnosis of my auto immune diseases. It took many years of fighting to find out what was wrong with me. And, trust me, I saw a few unhelpful doctors before I met a specialist who actually knew what he was talking about. It is thanks to him that I am where I am now.
Assumptions I Recall From The Past
Here are just a couple of examples of what I had to deal with before I got my diagnosis of Antiphospholipid Syndrome and Sjogrens Syndrome.
I collapsed at work in a meeting in London about 35 years ago. My then husband got me to the doctor where we lived in Sussex. Only for me to be told it was a panic attack. What did I expect when I didn’t have children and was running a business when I should be at home? Really??!!!! Assumption based on prejudice much? No further examination, just go away and not get so stressed and think about what he said. Well, still thinking about it 35 years later mate!
Stress And Need To Lose Weight
Some time later, when I was struggling with breathlessness, I went to a different doctor (in the same practice) only for him to tell me that I was suffering from stress I needed to lose weight. Which to be fair I did, but that was only half the story of the symptoms I was struggling with. He talked about the ‘baked bean diet’. He even went so far as to draw a can of baked beans with beans spilling over the edge. I watched him in horror as he draw little beans falling off the edge of a tin. Apparently I was to discover how many beans I can actually eat without putting on weight – sitting looking at him words failed me.
Like I said, we all make assumptions and in a hurried situation maybe they can be given more weight than they should. But the doctors not listening to what I was saying or send me for further investigation was concerning at the time. One doctor even accused me of lying about my symptoms!
I have in my possession a copy of my UK health records. One of the doctors has written an entry that says ‘this lady is nothing if not a little odd’. It was quite an eye opener to see what had been written about me I have to say! If only I could go back to those doctors with what I know now.
Italian Healthcare Experiences
Moving to Italy was an interesting experience as the health care system is run completely differently to the UK. The patient is actually responsible for holding all the health records and requesting appointments etc. It is quite empowering.
Being In Hospital In Italy
Other than the odd infection and visit to the family doctor, my first big experience of healthcare here in Italy was when I had to go into hospital because I had collapsed and was very dizzy. That was some 15 years ago. A doctor asked me when my husband was coming in to see me as he wanted to talk to him about my medical results. It wasn’t appropriate to talk to me about them it would seem without discussing them with my husband first. Well, I explained the situation to him quite clearly. My health is my issue and you don’t discuss anything with my husband! And all he wanted to say was they had found it was an allergy to a particular fungus that was in our house walls that had been exposed during building work.
I was in the local hospital again seven years ago for gallbladder removal. Things did not go quite as planned and I had three sessions in hospital until the issue was resolved with an additional procedure. Each time I was in hospital, the doctors came round the ward twice a day. On the first day, all the other ladies in the ward leapt into bed when the doctors appeared. I found it amusing how they ran across the ward and climbed into their beds like children. They looked at me, with their sheets pulled up to their chins, as I continued sitting in my chair by the window reading a book. I never thought anything of it. When he got to me, I asked the main doctor lots of questions, which I confess he seemed surprised at, but he answered them all happily.
After the doctors left, the other ladies, mostly older than me, scolded me! You had to be in bed to see the doctor and you weren’t supposed to ask so many questions. The doctors know what they are doing and they don’t like it when you query things. Yeah, right, I had plenty of experience of that in the UK! Assumption is the first mistake I made, years ago, thinking a doctor must be right when he or she clearly wasn’t.
The funny thing was, after that first day, the doctor took to sitting down next to me and asking me what questions I had for him. He seemed to actually enjoy answering them and explaining things.
More Recent Medical Experiences
I have been in hospital more recently and things have changed a lot, though there is still room for improvement. I also have a brilliant family doctor who has really looked after me.
Both of my early hospital experiences in Italy came when I was admitted after attending Pronto Soccorso (Accident and Emergency). My experiences then had been excellent. So, I was bitterly disappointed, just before Christmas in 2020, when I had to go there again and had a completely different experience..
Experience Of The Emergency Room
I had been treated for a week with heparin injections for phlebitis in my leg. I had started to feel incredibly unwell. My blood pressure was through the roof, I had chest pains, gastritis, problems with my legs. Gosh I can’t begin to list how bad I felt. There was no choice but to go to the hospital. I had to be tested for Covid before being let in to the hospital but there were no other patients there. After blood tests and a discussion, during which the doctor confessed she had not heard of two of my medical conditions (Antiphospholipid Syndrome and Sjogrens Syndrome) but she did know about Fibromyalgia.
She said I should be on blood pressure medication because it was so high (I don’t usually have a blood pressure problem) and I needed to take something for the gastritis. That was it. I showed them the huge bruises I had from the heparin (we are talking massive and very painful) as they were really bothering me. She and the nurse accused me of rubbing the injection site. I know that is something you should not do and it had been explained to me very clearly by my lovely doctor. Another example of assumption not based on the facts. I tried to protest but was dismissed and went home. And it wasn’t because they were busy either.
The Next Visit
The second time I went to the emergency room was a few days later on Christmas Eve. I felt so ill, the bruises were just massive, the chest pains were terrible and I honestly thought I was having a heart attack. But no, chums! Not so! It was (you guessed it) a panic attack from stress and I needed Valium. I went home in tears wondering what on earth was going to happen to me. It was a really low point.
Finally Getting An Answer
We had a dreadful Christmas where I couldn’t eat anything as my stomach was so bad. I was in so much pain and BB was getting very concerned. I saw my doctor a few days after Christmas as the bruises from the injections were now weeping. He took one look at me and said ‘My God you are having a massive reaction to the heparin!’. Immediate stoppage of heparin, treatment for the bruises and a sensible explanation. Again, so much for a panic attack and all in my mind. Now, why couldn’t the emergency doctors at the hospital come to the same conclusion? They were not busy on either occasion, though I get that being so close to Christmas they were maybe distracted. The answer would appear to be because they made assumptions about me and my mental state. That then coloured their response to everything I said.
What Triggered This Rant?
But what really triggered this rant in my blog was a very recent visit to a specialist a few weeks ago. The first think he did was to query why I was taking Vitamin D supplements when I lived in Italy. He waved his arm at the window, there is plenty of sunshine outside, I need to get out in it, I don’t need supplements. Maybe, he should have read the notes I gave him? That included blood tests showing low Vit D levels and the conclusion from another specialist that my body doesn’t make enough of it? Oh, and that I should stay on supplements permanently with regular monitoring? But no, as I protested with these facts they were dismissed with a wave of the hand and a snort of derision.
I have a lot of allergies and intolerances that I mentioned to him and he immediately asked me who said I did? Had I been tested? Hello, yes, it is all well documented. A comment I made about Fibromyalgia was greeted with another snort. He seemed to be good at those. Did he really think I was making all this up?
I Was Taken Aback
I was a bit taken aback by this, I have to say. He was a strange man, clearly very high up in his field and highly experienced. He clearly didn’t know what Eagle Syndrome is. That is not a big surprise, it is quite rare and I am used to having to explain it. My family doctor had to look it up when he got the diagnosis. But when I started to explain the syndrome to this specialist and the effect it has on my mouth and jaw when I eat there was another snort and handwave. He told me it was all in my mind. Again, I had x-rays and letters from specialists confirming the diagnosis. At this point, I started to get quite cross, which he could see. I got the impression he was rather enjoying himself.
After a couple of other rather rude comments we reached the final straw. He asked another question and as I tried to answer he just snorted and said ‘all in your mind’. I stood up and left. Much to his astonishment.
It took me a few days to get over this appointment. Mainly because it brought back all my feelings of being crushed from many years ago. And doubting of myself (was it really all in my head?) that I had experienced in the early days of getting diagnosed. I was then cross with myself for letting him get to me in that way! But maybe these feelings had to be expressed and that is the purpose of this blog post. So, let’s treat it as a positive!
This discussion with such a rude, ignorant man, brought to a head years of this sort of thing. Not being believed, being treated like a woman who knows nothing, it is all in my head etc. But I am not putting up with it anymore. Note to self, I really need that t-shirt.
Before you go
My name is Dorothy Berry-Lound an artist and writer. You can find out more about my art and writing at https://dorothyberryloundart.com.
Thank you for reading!