Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Sammi
    1 month ago

    I feel for you. I was lucky. My RA started in my hands and the hand specialist admitted he didn’t know why I hurt and after various treatments and consults with other specialists in his practice we discovered a bone cyst using a bone scan..my RA took a fast track after that. The rheumatologist I’ve worked with for the last 21+ years calls me his challenge. He is older and I fear the day he retires. He’s cut his days down but loves his job.
    I wish you all the best. Stay positive. I know some days are harder than others. One foot in front of the other.

  • Sammi
    1 month ago

    I feel for you. I was lucky my RA started in my hands and the hand specialist admitted he didn’t know why I hurt and after various treatments and consults with other specialists in his practice we discovered a bone cyst using a bone scan..my RA took a fast track after that. The rheumatologist I worked with for the last 21+ years calls me his challenge. He is older and I fear the day he retires.
    I wish you all the best. Stay positive. I know some days are harder than others. One foot in front of the other.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 month ago

    Thanks for sharing your story, Sammi. Hang in there. Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    1 month ago

    Kelly,
    Thanks for sharing this. Your perspective always amazes me. Although I am a positive person, I tend to see this type of situation differently. I have little tolerance for incompetence. It’s okay with me if the MD says, “I’m not sure what to do”, as long as they follow that with, “But I’ll look it up and call my colleagues.”
    However, simply refusing to treat is ridiculous! I have been an RN for 34 years and I have NEVER understood MDs who refuse to treat.
    Prayers and hugs.
    Mary Sophia, Rheumatoidarthritis.net moderator

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 month ago

    Thanks Mary Sophia! 🙂

  • Diana
    1 month ago

    This must be an article I wrote in my sleep as it’s an identical description of my personal experiences! I too have been diagnosed with RA for 40 years with this unrelenting disease. I also suffer from trigimenal neuralgia now 20 years which I’ve come to believe just might be related. (That’s another horrifying diagnosis.)

    I know right away if a physician is willing to walk this path with me. I literally ask every new doctor if they are willing to be my doctor and I continually thank and show appreciation for my medical providers. If I walk into an ER, physicians are glad to listen to my directions on treatment. The fear is in their eyes and they appreciate the help. Once I fell and asked the ER NOT to X-ray my hands that I had fallen on as they would 1)be shocked at the images of my destroyed hands 2) not know what to do and 3) I already would have plenty of prednisone at home to do a burst (Per my rheumatologist) to help reduce the inflammation of the trama.

    It’s a tough road we have learned to navigate. Not only fear plays into this but I’m certain some physicians don’t want to mess up their excellent outcome results. I know those docs right away, unfortunately. My hip replacement might not go as well as another patient’s because my foot is still recovering from it’s 3rd surgery and the knee had been bone on bone for several years…that said, I’m not that “ideal” patient. Ha. And I’m rejected and seek a braver doc.

    I am proud of my fearless team at this time. They put aside the concerns of maybe something going wrong. I need renegades, doctors willing to try, willing to care. I’m sorry anyone hard to endure this disease but those of us that do are resilient and brave. Thank you for sharing your story!
    Diana

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 month ago

    Thank you Diana! Really appreciate you sharing your story and fearlessness. 🙂 You give me a boost! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Cyd
    1 month ago

    Wow – Kelly, you have sure been through a lot!! I can’t imagine having to grow up with disease, it’s hard enough to handle as an adult with adult onset! I admire your tenacity . Honestly though, I’ve never had a doctor who, to my knowledge has been afraid of me. Of course I am only on my 3rd rheumo and my newly acquired P.C. is more than willing to treat my fibromyalgia; I’ve been going to the same pain management doctor, for a plethora of back issues, for 6 years as I’ve never felt a reason to switch. So I say Bless your heart!! I’ve only been dealing with all this mess for about 6-7 years and it sucks!

  • Richard Faust moderator
    1 month ago

    Hi Cyd. Thanks for writing and I’m glad you have had pretty good luck with doctors. I’m Kelly’s husband and have had a chance to witness some of the fear she writes about first hand. I really think there are two kinds of fear/issues.

    The first is the fear of not being able to do anything and what it would say about the person as a doctor. The rheumatologist who dismissed Kelly as a patient was in a sense putting the blame on her for having a condition he couldn’t do anything about. There may have been fear of failing as a doctor, but also transference. I think he didn’t refer her to anyone else because that would be acknowledging on some level that he was not good enough. Instead, no referral because the problem was not him, but rather that she was untreatable.

    The second is the more standard fear that one might make a mistake. The PA didn’t understand Kelly’s condition, so he was uncomfortable treating her. I was absolutely fine with his acknowledgement of his lack of knowledge, but not with an unwillingness to do basic levels of treatment until she could see a specialist. He could have trusted us to inform him on treatment regimens that her and her specialist regularly employee, but instead let his fear lead to paralysis.

    There really seems to be a necessary balance for good medical care between a humbleness to acknowledge one’s limitations and the limitations of the science and the confidence to trust in one’s abilities. A good doctor is certainly something to cherish for those with RA. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 month ago

    Spot on, Richard! The hubby is an expert! 🙂 -Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    1 month ago

    I suggest that the minute you sense fear from a doctor, Do as I do:

    I remind them that I sold my flame thrower last week so they have little to fear, today.

    I tell doctors they may be afraid now, but wait until my wife shows up. I tell them whew she is mean and if I were them I would treat me well, promptly and kindly.

    I remind them that my sister will join me at the next appointment. Her pardon is expected any day.

    I must admit that when I mention one of these things I have never been treated, but it is fun to watch their face turn blue.

    Of course I am only half serious (I really do not have a sister). But wow my cousin sure looks like me and all the police officers know her and what she says she did not do despite the last 22 years on death row.

    rick

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 month ago

    I very much like all of these ideas, Rick! 🙂 Perhaps I should take a twist on what my grandfather used to threaten and really “give them something to be afraid about”? 😉 -Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Poll