Despite waiting weeks for an appointment and filling out all those forms, you can tell from the get-go, you’re being regarded as an inconvenience. Maybe, despite your persistent symptoms, you “look” too healthy to have anything seriously wrong with you and your new doctor has scheduled you for a cursory history/physical/basic blood work before she moves on to the next warm body.
Maybe she’s discouraged by the stack of records you’ve brought in and your opening statement “Doctor, you’re the fifth…sixth…etc.” doctor I’ve seen for my problem and no one can figure it out.”
“Maybe,” your new doctor thinks, “Because there’s nothing wrong with you.”
Many times, an even worse start is that you have done some homework, or (Heaven Forfend!!) seen an alternative practitioner. “My chiropractor thinks I should be tested for chronic Lyme Disease.” (What would a chiropractor know about that, she mumbles to herself)
Now we get into the land of the ‘no such disease’ and if you find yourself there, or worse yet, “oh, it’s the latest fad disease,” start gathering your belongings and glance around for the closest exit.
The “no such diseases” were of course pretty much all diseases before their causes were discovered. Right now, we’re on the cusp of a bunch more, moving from being too easily dismissed by the terminally incurious and intellectually slothful to being fully accepted. Twenty five years ago, Rheumatology Department at Northwestern sent all their fibromyalgia patients to psychiatrists as hypochondriacs. Then, when a research pharmacologist at Northwestern literally invented the fibromyalgia medicine Lyrica, Northwestern earned an astonishing $1.5 billion in royalties, stopped sending fibromyalgia patients to shrinks and advertised themselves as a “Center of Excellence” in the treatment of Fibromyalgia. You can bet everyone got Lyrica and there was no acupuncturist in sight.
Doctors often answer your inquiry about fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic Lyme, mast cell activation, adrenal fatigue, subclinical hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue, intestinal parasites, Morgellons, mold biotoxin illness, and a dozen others with a pleasant, “It’s really not fully accepted as a condition. I don’t know how to test for it or treat it.”
With a mere thirty seconds of Googling, your arrogant young Dr. Schweitzer would discover dozens of these disease specific conferences, both in person and online. But patients have told me again and again the utter futility of trying to educate someone who believes their level of expertise is at its peak.
You know what I’m going to tell you, but repetition doesn’t hurt.
When you feel ‘a something’ in your body that’s persistent, the universal term for this sensation is a ‘symptom.’ Headache, heartburn, weight gain/loss are all ‘symptoms.’ When a symptom seems to last more than a few days we get little worry-wiggles. “Could this be the first sign of something serious?”
We got to a doctor, or these days, an Urgent Care Center. Nothing is found. Tests are negative. The symptom seems to just go away by itself. And that’s all well and good until a few weeks or months later, we think it might be coming back again.
At this point, keep your thumb well above the panic button. Symptoms that are relatively mild, with negative tests, that come and go, separated by days, weeks, months, are called “functional symptoms.” These are sensations from your body when it is disapproving of a certain behavior on your part. Heartburn? Not cancer of the esophagus but rather the lasagna/Chianti you ate last night. Feeling achy and feverish this morning? Say, didn’t you get your COVID booster yesterday.
Listen to your body’s message, act on it, and the symptom usually just goes away.
In the meantime, if you do have some persistent symptoms, and your doctor from that hotshot medical center you’ve waited weeks to see looks piteously at you and suggest a therapist for your stress.
Look around for smaller offices with the words “functional and alternative medicine,” like ours of course, but fortunately you’ll be seeing more and more all over the country. It’s the inevitable direction of health care, best for all of us.
David Edelberg, MD