A doctor is looking at a medical history document map. The map is going every which way and off the paper.

The Trouble with Being Too Interesting

Unfortunately, I am just too interesting for my own good. By too interesting, I mean having a long, complicated case of rheumatoid arthritis with plenty of co-occurring conditions and treatment side effects. My history is lengthy and labyrinthine, my files too thick to print, and my physical appearance (with a motorized wheelchair and contracted joints) belies a simple health story.

It’s just no longer feasible for me to pop into urgent care or see a medical practitioner who does not know me for what I deem a straightforward, yet urgent health issue. This is very challenging in a day and age where it’s hard to get squeezed in for a GP (General Practitioner) when a health issue happens due to tough scheduling and not enough doctors. While most folks can easily go to urgent care, I am usually turned away or told to go see my regular doctor even when the schedule doesn’t allow it.

I recently had an ear infection

My latest experience with getting care happened when I came down with an ear infection. I had one last year and so was familiar with the symptoms. When I called my doctor (whom I trust and really like), I learned she is on maternity leave for several more months. While great news, it put me in a pickle about what to do next.

The assistant at the practice was able to squeeze me onto another doctor’s schedule when I explained the urgency: I have an autoimmune disease and so need swift treatment for an infection. I preferred not to go to the ER when a simple exam and antibiotic prescription would likely take care of things.

The appointment went fine and the doctor seemed to agree with what I was feeling. He prescribed five days of antibiotics and I started feeling better after a few days. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. After finishing the antibiotic, the infection began returning. I was worried and worked quickly to try to get more antibiotics.

I needed a longer course of antibiotics

I think my personal GP would have prescribed a lengthier original course of antibiotic because she knew and better understood my history of being immunocompromised and having small infections that can quickly spiral into bad situations (like getting admitted to the hospital through the ER from a skin infection resulting in a two-night and nearly $20,000 bill—not that I have experience with this). While I gave the short synopsis to the substitute doctor, it is not as potent if you have not been there with me through the years.

Turned away from a walk-in clinic and urgent care

First I left a message for the substitute doctor I saw at my regular practice. When I didn’t hear back, I went to a walk-in clinic where they have a nurse practitioner and they turned me away saying: “You should go back to the previous doctor.” Frustrated and feeling stuck, I took myself to the urgent care in the same practice as my GP. While the doctor was sympathetic, he declined to prescribe treatment and said I should try again to contact the original doctor.

After two days of frustration and increasing discomfort from the infection, I left another message and also messaged my rheumatologist about the situation. I went to bed that night determined to go to the ER if I didn’t hear anything the next morning. While it felt ridiculous to have to do so, I felt it was the only option left to prevent hospitalization.

I was so relieved to receive a message the next morning from the original substitute doctor that he was immediately sending in another antibiotic prescription and that I should contact him if my infection should worsen. We picked up the medication as soon as the pharmacy opened and I felt the infection clear after a couple of days.

Urgent care with a complex medical history

It’s a real pickle when urgent care doesn’t know what to do with you and when your regular doctor is not available. I feel like several medical practitioners in different places didn’t listen to me. At once, I was too interesting (or complex) and yet, it was also not worth paying attention to my concerns and expertise.

In the future, I am afraid that I will need to be extra insistent and try to loop in (if possible) my previous doctors who know me to advise on care.

Does anyone else find doctors that don’t know you refuse care because they are afraid of the complexity of your case? How do you cope with urgent care issues?

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