This Might Surprise You, but I Know My Body Well

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by Brianna Albers |

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As part of this column, I’ve taken to recording encounters with ignorant — if well-meaning — healthcare providers. Fortunately for me, those encounters have been few and far between. But that doesn’t make those few-and-far-between encounters any less frustrating.

A few months ago, I wrote about a trip to a nearby clinic. Several weeks prior, I’d injured my shoulder during a routine transfer. I’d hoped the pain would go away with time, but eventually decided to see a doctor, if only to put my mind at ease.

The appointment was last-minute. I rushed to the clinic, drugged up on over-the-counter (OTC) medication, only for my pain to be dismissed. I left with instructions to take Aleve twice daily for a week.

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I spent the ride home reliving the appointment. The clinic didn’t have access to an X-ray machine, so I couldn’t blame the doctor for not requesting imagery. But it still left a bad taste in my mouth. Between the borderline ableist comments and the lackluster examination, I felt dissatisfied.

I felt unseen.

Fast-forward a couple of months. The pain, while improving somewhat, has persisted. My trip to Anaheim, California, for this year’s Cure SMA Conference was made possible by no small amount of Tylenol. These days, I manage my pain with ice packs, daily stretches, and occasional OTC usage.

During an appointment with my general practitioner (GP), I decided to ask for an X-ray. There was no harm in trying, and if I was lucky, maybe I’d even get some answers. I told the nurse what happened, and when I mentioned that my shoulder pops in and out of its socket, she made a face.

“Ow! That must really hurt!”

That, I realized, was the reaction I’d been waiting for.

When my GP arrived, I told her much the same story. She asked some questions, examined my shoulder, and ordered an X-ray.

Luckily, my dad was able to assist the radiologist. There was no hemming or hawing, no “you’re not an average Joe, so I’m not sure how you’ll even get into the X-ray machine.” I immediately sensed a difference between this care team and the previous one. They were willing to work with me. More importantly, they took me seriously.

A few hours later, the results were in my inbox. I opened the email and felt a surge of vindication. I’d been right all along. I had a torn rotator cuff.

My friends were shocked, as were my parents. My caregiver, who took me to the initial appointment, responded with, “I’m so glad you finally have answers!”

By the time you read this, I’ll be at the orthopedist, learning to care for my torn rotator cuff. I am, of course, relieved. Pain is easier to deal with when you know the cause. But I’m also frustrated — not only with the healthcare industry, but with a society that has taken to dismissing women’s pain on the basis of us “overreacting.”

I think of the days of immeasurable pain after my G-tube placement. I was so bloated that I could barely sleep, let alone sit in my chair. When I finally went to the gastroenterologist, he examined the site and realized the G-tube was too tight. An excess amount of air had been trapped in my stomach for four whole days.

I think of the abdominal pain that turned out to be kidney stones. I think of the hospital nurses who told me I was brave, that passing a kidney stone can be more painful than childbirth. Years later, when I told my not-quite-romantic partner that my abdominal pain was probably a kidney stone, as I’d had them previously, they dismissed the possibility. How could I possibly know that?

As it turns out, I know my body better than most.

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Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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