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Nancy K. Humphreys Headshot

Why Can't Doctors Hear Me?

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I'd never screamed in pain before, but I was screaming now, and I knew why. The burning stream of hot lava that flowed from right to left across my lower abdomen was exactly what a junior high friend told me she'd experienced when her appendix ruptured.

A is for Appendix

When I got tot the ER I said "appendix" to everyone I saw. No one responded. Was I mumbling? Couldn't they hear me? Finally they gave me a bed and something for pain. Each time I awoke they were doing tests. First my lungs, then my heart, then -- my vagina? For Pete's sake!

I know the gynecologist heard me say "appendix " because he grimaced and shook his head in a definite "no" as he poked around.

After a week they ran out of tests. A new doctor sat on my bed and said. "We don't know what"s wrong with you. I'd like to open you up and find out." Looking at his sturdy legs and strong hands, I replied, "Yes, please do!"

They did, and my doctor sheepishly told me. "It was your appendix. It ruptured."

B is for Bites

My stomach hurt. I told an internal medicine doctor that it felt like "tiny things are inside my stomach biting me."

His face went blank. Several tests with big machines and hundreds dollars later we were still clueless. I went to an alternative medicine practitioner. She handed me a stool kit. A couple weeks later I sat in her office while she read the lab results. "Ah, you have Trichuris."

Hallelujah! A diagnosis! "What is that?"

"It's whipworm -- it has a long tail like a whip. The tail helps it bury its head deep into the intestinal wall."

T is Tired

On Jan. 10 of this year I stood up after dinner and felt my heart flop like a fish. I knew what it was -- atrial fibrillation (afib). The pill I took for afib failed. I saw a cardiologist, and got new pills.

I saw four doctors over three months. I said, "I'm tired, REALLY TIRED." They all told me even though I had afib, it's "normal" to have a heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute.

But I WASN'T "normal." I couldn't work -- I couldn't even sit at my desk and write! Desperate, I asked my partner to come with me to my cardiologist's. I began my usual litany -- tired, can't work, "but I can climb three flights of stairs without stopping, and I never could do that before." The cardiologist's face went blank.

Suddenly my partner leaned forward. "She's strong, but she lacks stamina."

Ah, stamina! The magic word!

The doctor stood, donned his stethoscope, listened to my heart, then gazed into his computer. "No wonder! Your heart's been beating 100 to 123 times a minute."

Why didn't I know that? Because in afib the heart beat and the pulse are no longer in sync. "Get yourself an inexpensive stethoscope," he said, "and let's try another medication."

C is for Clarity

So dear reader, I'm lying down, writing this blog in my head, while I wait for the drugstore to call. After my appendix, I know I'm blessed with the same number of lives as a cat. But I say this only half in jest. I'm afraid one day I'll find myself dead before a doctor actually "gets" what I'm trying to say.

Doctors have created dictionaries full of terms, in Latin no less, to talk to each other about medical issues. Why on earth can't they come up with a list of terms in English, words they trust patients can use to tell them exactly what feels wrong with us?

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