A doctor hiding behind a partially open door peering into a waiting room with a patient he is afraid of.

Doctors Who Are Afraid of Me

I’ve experienced it numerous times: doctors who are afraid of me. Perhaps it is more accurate to say they are not afraid of me as a person (I hope), but of my condition as a patient. This reaction is something I feel immediately and always results in poor care.

Fearing a child with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis

When I was a child, there were definitely doctors who were afraid. I don’t remember them well because of my youth, but also because my parents would swiftly arrange for a change in care. These were doctors who saw the severity of my rheumatoid arthritis, lack of treatment options, and young age as a triple hazard. I’m not saying that it wasn’t—but running away in fear wasn’t the answer to these dangers.

It was the doctors who worked with us to try treatments and create action plans who made the most difference for me. It was the orthopedic surgeon who performed joint replacement on me as a teenager (yes, definitely a risky endeavor). His ability to put the fear aside and treat me as best as possible transformed my pain and helped me maintain the ability to walk.

Doctor who are afraid to treat my rheumatoid arthritis

Later, as a young adult, I had a rheumatologist who was afraid. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it until after a few visits. It was on my last appointment that I finally realized: he is afraid because he doesn’t know what to do with me. Basically, there was no treatment I hadn’t tried at the time and no new options for my rheumatologist. Yet I still had RA symptoms like pain and stiffness.

Instead of being willing to stay the course and keep monitoring me as best as possible, this doctor said he had done all he could and I should seek care someplace else. It was too bizarre until I realized it was about his fear: of my RA, and of his failure. However, he didn’t consider that he failed right then—failed to look out for his patient (or refer me to someone who could).

Doctors who fear my long history with RA

I can see where I might appear daunting. I have a 40-year history of RA. I have complications and co-occurring conditions. I have many scars from surgeries and procedures. I have terrible veins from decades of blood draws. And this is the shortlist! But I still need care, like anyone else. And I am willing to do the work.

Most recently, I was experiencing a health crisis from a skin infection and saw a medical professional at urgent care who was afraid to treat me. He literally said those words. And he referred me to my specialist. Unfortunately, this was not fast enough so I ended up at the emergency room and being admitted to the hospital. I went to urgent care to get urgent treatment and didn’t get what I needed.

Fear can hinder treatment and worsen our health

Well-meaning doctors and other medical professionals can make terrible mistakes by being fearful. I now realize that I should be more assertive in these situations. The treatment was pretty clear and even if it were wrong (which it wasn’t), it would not have done harm. I could have avoided worsening health and a stay in the hospital.

Better recognizing doctors impacted by fear

While it turned out OK, it could have been avoided by savvy action instead of caution inspired by fear. Sometimes fear just sucks. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating taking action just for the sake of taking action, but the decision to do nothing is still a choice – and a choice made out of fear isn’t likely to benefit the patient.

I’ve learned that I need to listen for and better recognize a medical professional infected by the fear monster. I have to insist for swift treatment (and argue that it is worse to wait sometimes) and balance the need for caution with the need for swift action during a crisis.

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