a silhouette of a person presenting all of their doctors

I've Known My Rheumatologist Longer Than I've Known My Sister

I’ve known my rheumatologist longer than I’ve known my sister.

Yup. It’s true. Let that sink in. I’m, you know, circa 40 years old, and my dear sister - who has been both annoying and wonderful in equal parts for around 25 years - wasn’t a thing when I first visited my rheumatologist at the young age of 16. Imagine that.

Multiple specialists in my healthcare team

This sobering realization was part of an overall epiphany that some of the longest, meaningful relationships I’ve had in my life have been with doctors. Rheumatologist: almost three decades. Cardiologist: twelve years. Pain specialist: ten years. And my oncologist, the baby of the doctor family, I’ve known for almost four.

That’s about 55 years worth of doctor-knowing combined and I’m not even half done with my life! (Hopefully.) I don’t think I could come up with a better metaphor for how big of a part doctors play in the lives of those who are chronically ill and especially those with RA.

All the random doctors inbetween

Now, I’m not even going to attempt to add up the time spent with all the various short term docs or, as they are colloquially called, randos. Between hospital stays, quests to find the “right” doctor for me in certain areas, and one-off specialist vests, there is a good chance that I’ve met more doctors in my life than the boy in the bubble. It’s somewhere in the high hundreds.

Heck, I might even have broken 1000 if I’m being liberal with my estimate and including every hospital stay since age four. The point is, doctors are such a permanent fixture in the lives of those with RA that I think sometimes we forget how foreign a concept that is to the “healthy” masses.

Doctor's visits are part of RA

It didn’t really occur to me either, though, so I can’t feign like, “Yeah, well, I totally knew that - I was just testing you.” Doctors, to me, are just people in white coats who sometimes like to stick me with sharp objects and do that finger knocking thing on my belly.

Totally routine, nothing to be scared or apprehensive about and, in fact, so rote that most times I consider it a huge pain in the butt to have to schlep into the city, park, walk a few blocks, get into the smelly elevator, and arrive on time just to wait another forty-five minutes to see the doctor. I mean, just saying, if you see me almost an hour late, why can’t I just come then?

To most, these visits are a fringe event

Anyhoo, I was talking to a friend who is relatively encumbered by medical issues and I realized that most people are not only generally anxious about seeing doctors, but they view it as an anomaly, a fringe event that only happens when an expert is needed. That’s so foreign to me that I can’t even imagine myself having a dream about a time I had a passing thought about a doctor visit being even slightly abnormal.

Differences in how and when people see a doctor

In addition, I realized just how quickly some of those “healthy” people are to turn to a doctor when something is amiss. Now, I would never begrudge anyone the safety and succor of having a real MD tell them it’s “nothing to worry about,” but I feel that those of us who live with RA and chronic illness are the stereotypical “grizzled old veteran” character in this particular movie. You know the one I mean – the old guy, usually an alcoholic due to all he’s seen (not saying any of you are, don’t tweet me), telling the newbie, wide-eyed recruits that, “War isn’t honorable,” and, “Wait till you see your buddy face down in the muck with his guts hanging out!” You know, pleasant stuff.

I try not to go to the doctor often

Seriously, it’s how I feel sometimes especially when I hear someone say, “Yeah, I got a bit of a sniffle so I’m going to see the doctor.” Sniffle? SNIFFLE? I feel like telling them the one time I’m pretty sure an actual piece of my brain fell out of my nose and I just stuck that gray nugget back up there and went about my business. Sure, now I can taste purple and can't remember all of 1995, but my point is that unless a limb comes off or my heart explodes, I try to not go to the doctor. Literally the opposite of what most “healthy” people do.

Hell, when I got cancer, I waited a week while I listening to my blood whooshing in my ears and, when I did finally get there, they were like, “You’re about 5 quarts down and your hemoglobin was so low that we had to use a special printer to chart the results.” Want to know the most screwed up part? When they said that, instead of the normal response which would be something like, “Oh wow, I was really sick,” my crazy brain thought, “Ha, can’t kill me - I’m invincible.”

We rely on physicians because of our chronic illness

Sorry, got a bit off track there. But circling back, the point was that I have been so indoctrinated (pun intended) to have physicians in my life, that I don’t even view it as anything abnormal even when I have to visit the emergency room. Now, I just call that Tuesday.

It just becomes more and more routine

It’s something that all of us who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and chronic illness deal with and, as the years go on, it just becomes more and more routine. Now, I’m not saying there’s anything that can be done about it, and frankly, I’m not even sure if we should do something about it. Would we rather get anxious like a rookie every time we had to see the doctor, which is like, five days a month sometimes? Probably not.

Doctors are just not something out of place in our lives, and, to be honest, that’s just the way it should be for those of us who rely on them. Talk soon.

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