Too Sick to Be Seen?

Since August/September I have had a bad cough.  I thought it was my usual seasonal allergy thing, where every year I cough, especially at night, and have to spit up what looks like clear liquid (sorry to be kind of gross there).

I thought when I moved to Ohio, to the Midwest, that maybe my allergy would go away.  Instead it got worse.  The worst was at night, although it would happen during the day too.  I would wake up coughing and choking on my saliva.  I couldn’t stop coughing.  I took to having cough drops, something to drink and tissues to spit up in at my bedside.  It would affect my sleep because it would happen more than once a night.  It flared my Costocondritis.

So many other things were going on with me; my Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Myofascial Pain Sydrome and Interstitial Cystitis were flaring.  Who could worry about a cough, although it was very disruptive.

On the suggestion of my mother-in-law, I started sleeping sitting up, thinking it was a post-nasal drip sort of thing.  It was very hard to sleep like this and it would take me a while to go to sleep.  It didn’t work, I was still having coughing and choking fits and I went back to my bed.

After seeing my Primary Care Doctor many times at the clinic on the East side of Cleveland for my ailments, I finally came in last week just for the cough.  I made the mistake of telling him it probably was allergies.  Never tell a doctor you think you know what your diagnosis is.  They are either going to get right on board with you if it is something easy like allergies, or think you are a hypochondriac if you say you have cancer. 

First I saw the Nurse Practitioner.  She said, “Well you probably have GERD. Do you have a sour taste in your mouth?”  I told her I did not and said I did not have the other symptoms she listed.

The doctor listened to my chest and said my lungs were clear and gave me an OTC medicine similar to Claritin and a prescription for a generic nose spray if that failed.

I started taking the tablets.  Two days went by and no relief.  That didn’t seem right to me so I called the manufacturer’s drug information line and asked how long I should be on the medication, when would I feel some relief?  “Well, you are supposed to feel some relief within six hours!”, she said.  I dropped the tablets and tried the nose spray with the same results.

In the meantime, sometimes when I would start to speak all that would come out would be coughing.  I would have “attacks” during my daily life, always having to carry cough drops or needing people to get me water to stop my cough.

One day I even coughed up a trace amount of blood as I spit into the sink.  My voice is hoarse.

This week I vowed to see my doctor again.  This was crazy, I wanted to say ‘Where do we go with this next?!’

On Friday I came in as a walk-in, since a large part of their appointments are walk-in.  I usually come in as a walk-in because it sometimes can take two weeks to see the doctor.  The receptionist told me that they didn’t have walk-in hours until noon and it was 8:30.  I had always thought it was walk-in every day, I guess I had never tried to come on a Friday morning.  I could see if my therapist was free at any point this morning, I thought, then I could come back around 11:30.

I told the receptionist that’s what I would do and she said, “Well the doctor has a very busy schedule.  You are not guaranteed to be seen.”  “What if I come in at 11:00 or even at 10:30 and I am the first person on the walk-in sign-up list.  Surely he would be able to see the first person on the walk-in list.”  This logic seemed to baffle her and she replied that she still could not guarantee it.  When I told her I had had a cough since August, she became a bit alarmed and said that she would make me the next person to see the Nurse Practitioner, and that she would make the determination whether I would be able to see the doctor in the afternoon.

While I waited I started talking with a couple of older women.  They were both disabled, they told me, both turned down by the court and both awaiting appeals.  Ohio is one of the hardest states to be awarded disability.  I told them why I was here and one of them said, “Girl, you could have lung cancer.  My friend had a cough for a long time, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and she dead now.”

I also told them I had Lupus.  The other woman said, “Oh yeah, Lupus is very serious, you can definitely get cancer with Lupus.  My friend has Lupus and now he has prostate cancer too.”

I wanted to thank them for their encouraging words but decided to go back to my iPhone.

The nurse-practitioner called me in.  “You were here last week, what do you want now?”  “I came back for the same thing I was in for last week,” I said.  She walked me back to the office.  “Did you even try the medicines the doctor gave you?”  “Yes, of course, I tried both of them and they did not work so that is why I am back.”  “I told you last week you had GERD, you probably have GERD.”  “Ma’am, with all due respect I know what GERD is and I do not have GERD.”

She was putting my symptoms in her computer to see what might pop up.  I said, “I don’t think you will be able to diagnose me like that.”  “You’re right.  Ma’am you are too sick to come in as a walk-in!  Walk-ins are for emergencies only, people who have run out of their medication, who might have the flu or pneumonia.”  I apologized to her, said no one had ever told me that, but didn’t having any undiagnosed cough since August count as an emergency?

While we were speaking she was looking at my chart, at my medicines.  An anti-depressant, anti-anxiety medication, a sedative when needed, and something for sleep.

“Wait, are you anxious?”

“No, I am not anxious, I have had a cough that has not gone away since August.  Look, just because I am bipolar does not mean I have not had a cough since August.”

And then, doo, doo, doo, doo, the radar had hit it’s mark and focused right there.

“Oh, so you’re bipolar.”

This has been happening in every doctor’s office since I have moved to Ohio.  As soon as they learn I am bipolar, all thought of the possibility of me having Lupus or Interstitial Cystitis goes out the window.  I have offered them medical records of my diagnoses, but they won’t even look at them!

Grant had had a good idea.  If they will not look at my medical records, why not bring the judge’s decision on my disability case?  Which addressed all of my diagnoses and said that yes, my bipolar was a part of what went into me winning my case but I mostly won because I had Lupus and other physical illnesses that prevented me from working. It was the government, you have to believe the government, right?

I offered them to her and she said, “I don’t want to see those!”

She asked me when was the last time I had worked and what did I do?  I am not sure what this has to do with my cough but I told her that eight years prior to being disabled in 2008, I had been a Recruiter for the pharmaceutical industry where I recruited in Phases I-IV clinical research, recruiting from the Associate to the V.P. level, people who were doctors, nurses, scientist, people like herself.

She said, “Well, you’re very smart!  I have hard that some bipolar are smart.”

As if I was in a vegetative start and some scientist has just discovered that there was some spark of life in the old girl.  I was too stunned to even reply.

“How is your sleep?”

“It is very poor due to my cough and my pain that no one around here will treat.”  I told her about the horrendous experiences I had had at their beloved Cleveland Clinic.

“Well the Cleveland Clinic is a for-profit hospital.  I’m just telling you like it is.  They don’t have to treat you.”

“I know they don’t, but since they are a hospital dedicated to helping sick people, and this is America, I think the decent thing is that they should. ”

“Well you are MANIC!

“Ma-am, unless you have a degree in Psychiatry or in Psychology, you can not pronounce me manic.”

“I was a psychiatric nurse for 10 years!”

Oh my God, you were??  For 10 years, and you are just learned in your meeting with me that people with Bipolar can be smart???  God help the poor in-patient souls when you were caring for them!

She said, “Well the only thing I can offer you is cough medicine and cough drops, do you want that?”

Why not?

When I got home and read the label on the bottle it said, “Ask a doctor before using if you have had a cough that won’t go away.”  There were no instructions as to how to take it.  In addition it is possibly dangerous for people with Fibromyalgia to take products with Guaifenesin.  But since the nurse only looked at my one diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder it is safe to say she did not read that I had Fibro. I also feel pretty confident in saying that even if she had know I had Fibro, that she would not have ever heard of the controversial Guaifenesin Protocol.

I made an appointment to see the doctor on Monday, still baffled. All it would have taken was five minutes of the doctor’s time to say, “Holy crap, I cannot handle you here.  I can not X-ray your lungs, I don’t have the equipment to diagnose you with anything.  Here is a referral to see a Pulmonologist!”

I could have possibly been seeing a Pulmonologist this upcoming week.  Instead I have to see a Primary Care Doctor and who knows when a Pulmonologist can see me now with the holidays?

Rich or poor, insured or not, “sane” or Mentally Ill, to me it just seems a shame.

How about you?



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About mamasick

Emily Cullen is a pen-name. I suffer from chronic illnesses and diseases which include Bipolar Disorder, Asthma, Diabetes and Fibromyalgia. I had battled Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis but there is no longer evidence of me having these diseases and my Rheumatologist has declared them to be "burnt out" of my system. I am separated from my husband, “Grant”. Our son, “Tyler” was born in September of 2006 and suffers from tics and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and is delayed in fine and gross motor skills. In my blog I seek to let sick moms know that they are not the only ones going through this, and to educate people about what can happens when one becomes catastrophically ill. I also strive to break down stereotypes of what a “Welfare Mom” is like. Anything that I have gone through due to being sick, is written on the pages of Mama Sick.
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