“I did an internet search for my symptoms and after doing a bunch of reading, this is what I think I have….” She pulled a sheaf of papers from her large purse and passed them over to me.
I scanned through it quickly.
It wasn’t anything I had ever heard of before, but then her symptoms were not something that I recognized either. Hands that turned red and burned like they were on fire. They got better when she raised them up overhead or ran them under cold water. It had been going on for years. The pain was excruciating and now occurred at a more frenzied rate to the point she was afraid to leave her house.
“I think you might be right,” I told her.
Now, if I were honest with you and with myself, I would admit that my pride didn’t want her to be right. I wanted to be the hero. I wanted to be the one with the answers, not her and certainly not Dr. Google, but here we were anyway.
We did bloodwork to make sure it was not caused by something more serious and she started aspirin. Like magic, the pain was gone. Somehow, she still considered me her hero even after I told her I probably never would have figured it out on my own…
Several months later, a new patient showed up in my clinic telling me of the pain she was experiencing in her hands and feet. The pain came and went with no rhyme or reason. It burned terribly, kept her for doing things for fear it would appear.
“Do your hands and feet change colors?”
“YES! They turn red and I have to elevate them or run them under cold water to get them to stop.” Over the years she saw half a dozen specialists and was diagnosed with all manner of things: Fibromyalgia. Anxiety disorder. Neuropathy. Malingering.
She cried. She had clearly suffered and I suspect the implication that she was crazy was just as excruciating as the physical pain itself.
This time I got to be the full on hero. “You are NOT crazy. What you are experiencing has a name and a treatment!”
And by golly, she got better.
I have patients who come in all of the time and say sheepishly, “I know I shouldn’t be reading online but…”
But what if that first woman had not?
Maybe I would have referred her to someone who could eventually figure it out. Maybe she would have ended up like the second patient spending years suffering, passed from one specialist to the the next, always told it was all in her head. Then when that second patient showed up, I wouldn’t have had an answer for her, either.
Patients teach me new things every day, sometimes it is something simple… like keeping my pride in check so I can actually hear what patients are saying.