You can’t “un-ring” a bell!
by GLENETTA SHUEY
Many myths surround the idea of the role of the doctor: they are not all wealthy, they are not all without bedside manner, and many rarely have time to take even a short vacation. Fortunately, many will do the best they can for you, and if they believe you need more than they can give, the knowledgable physician is willing to refer you to a specialist of some kind.
Dr. Fraser Landreneau was my brilliant neurosurgeon who received much acclaim while he was co-owner of Baton Rouge Neuromedical Center. He would actually pray with his patients and was adamant about patients’ rights. He told me once that often you have to be your own advocate. “If it is for your children, you know them best, so advocate for them,” he would say. He treated many people in our area and earned respect. With his brilliant methods and a flexible disc he helped to invent, he gave me back the quality of my life. I can now move and exercise without back pain, thanks to him. Sadly, he died too young of colon cancer.
Dr. Landreneau would have been appalled at the words of a doctor who recently saw my 10-year-old granddaughter. Abigail has been having spinal issues causing her quite a bit of pain. Her pediatric orthopedist referred her to this spinal specialist. Without looking at her MRI results, he said, in front of Abigail, that maybe it was “…more here (pointing to her head), than here (pointing to her back).” Needless to say, my daughter did not go back to this doctor. He had based his opinion on the fact that she could bend over and nearly reach her toes. Not only did he shock my daughter, but Abigail was nearly in tears.
As my wise old mother would have said, “You can’t un-ring a bell.” The damage to Abby’s self-esteem was so painful to watch. She kept saying that she wasn’t lying, and we assured her that we believed her. Another specialist recently saw Abigail and did all of the imaging again, a bit more thoroughly, and again the images revealed the damage to her spine. He called it juvenile discogenic disorder or JDD. He told my daughter that Abby was to stay on her medications, and that they would watch her closely for more disc degeneration as she aged. He told Abigail that he believed her and the proof was in the MRI. None of us want Abby to have such a disorder, but we certainly didn’t want to have her dismissed as if she had made it all up. We wanted answers, not unnecessary sarcasm. My daughter wanted a doctor who cared enough to make sure Abby received the right diagnosis and, ultimately, the right care.
When I told a friend of mine about what this doctor said to Abigail, she was shocked. She was in the medical profession for over 40 years and thought that we should report him based on his unethical response, especially in front of a child. As her grandmother, I simply wanted to punch him in the face. Seriously, I really wanted to do that. However, I realize that is not something I should tell my grandkids and certainly not something I should contemplate.
I think of Dr. Landreneau’s response to this situation: he would have laughed that doctor right out of the room, because even with my severe spinal stenosis, I could bend and reach my toes. And I had to have complete reconstructive back surgery.
Lacking bedside manner is one thing, but simply not paying attention to the facts and not being concerned about the feelings of a young patient (or any patient) is inexcusable in my eyes. I know that most doctors would never speak this way to a patient. I had my own dealings with one doctor before I was diagnosed with FMD, Fibromuscular Dysplasia, a rare disease that affects the arteries and is a major cause of strokes in women. I was having severe headaches and what I thought was probably a TIA (transient ischemic attack), as I had seen my own mother experience these. This doctor first told me that I appeared to be in good health, to which I wanted to respond childishly by saying: “Duh!”
Using better judgment though, I refrained from doing so. He then went on to ask if I was under stress. Well, yes, I suppose so, since I was feeling like my head was going to explode some days! I simply sighed. I could see where this was going. He had already determined that I was a fine specimen of health and nothing was wrong with me. Then he said the words in his most condescending manner that would make me want to strangle him: “Well, we don’t want to borrow trouble.” At that remark, I stood up, grabbed my purse and walked out of his office, with him stammering something behind me. His nurse looked at me apologetically, and I told her I wasn’t paying the bill. I never did receive one.
Within the last year, I have been to Mount Sinai in New York to see a specialist for this disease. After four days of continuous imaging and research, and placing me in a registry for a study, my new doctor, a specialist in FMD, told me that I had not “borrowed trouble.” She smiled and said, “You inherited it.”
I learned to believe in myself and trust my own instincts. I say trust yourself and be a strong advocate for those you love. Another lesson learned.
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