By Donna Gregory Burch
Visit any online fibromyalgia support group, and you’ll probably encounter plenty of physician horror stories. I’ve read accounts of doctors yelling at their patients, calling them fat and lazy, saying their symptoms are all in their heads and worse.
Whenever I see these posts, my comment is always the same: Find a new doctor!
Yes, I know sometimes it’s not that easy. Some people are in circumstances where it’s not an option to switch doctors, but most of us DO have a choice in which doctor we see for our medical care.
And yet, time and time again, I see patients who allow themselves to be abused by so-called medical professionals. Why do we allow this to happen? Physicians don’t get a pass from basic human decency just because they have a fancy medical degree and make lots of money.
I think it’s time for us to start treating our physicians as we do other customer service providers. We are paying them for a service, right? So here are nine situations where it’s perfectly acceptable to fire your doctor and seek out a new one!
Reason #1: He doesn’t believe in fibromyalgia
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three drugs for the treatment of fibromyalgia, and there are more than 9,000 fibro-related studies listed on PubMed, the largest online database for medical research. Considering that, there should be no question that fibromyalgia is a real condition, but shockingly there are still doctors who don’t believe in it.
If you ever encounter a physician who says fibro doesn’t exist or something similar (i.e. fibromyalgia isn’t a real diagnosis, fibromyalgia is a wastebasket diagnosis, etc.), RUN as fast as your fatigued legs will carry you out of that exam room and don’t look back!
You are wasting your time if you’re working with a physician who doesn’t believe in fibromyalgia. After all, he’s not going to properly treat what he won’t even acknowledge.
Reason #2: He says it’s all in your head
There’s research indicating fibromyalgia pain originates in the brain, but that’s not what most doctors mean when they say, “It’s all in your head.” What they really mean is this: You’re crazy. You’re a hypochondriac. You’re making it up. You’re just a pill seeker. Blah, blah, blah.
When I was shuffling from doctor-to-doctor trying to get diagnosed, I ran into the “it’s all in your head” mentality way too many times. Most of the physicians didn’t come right out and say those words verbatim, but it was implied when they repeatedly tried to diagnose me with depression and prescribe an antidepressant.
If a physician says or insinuates it’s all in your head, use your head and find a new doctor!
Reason #3: He isn’t trying to help you
Fibromyalgia is a mysterious, difficult-to-treat illness, but that isn’t an excuse for your doctor to give up on you as a patient. If he’s not doing his job by trying to find solutions for your pain, fatigue and other symptoms, then make it your job to find a doctor who will!
Reason #4: He gets annoyed when you make suggestions
I believe patients should take an active role in their medical care by staying up to date on the latest research and treatments for their illness. Unfortunately, a lot of doctors don’t appreciate Dr. Google medical degrees. They become irritated or make snide remarks when their patients bring in research studies or ask about certain treatments.
I’m not sure why they behave this way. Maybe they’re aggravated that they spent eight-plus years in medical school and know less about fibromyalgia than we do. Maybe they’re control freaks and are threatened because they feel like we’re questioning their expertise.
Whatever the reason, fibromyalgia is an extremely challenging condition to manage. What works for one of us doesn’t work for all of us, so you need a physician who is open to discussing and trying different treatment options. If your physician shuts you down when you make suggestions regarding your treatment, it may be time to consider shutting the door on that doctor/patient relationship.
Reason #5: He doesn’t listen to you
My former nurse practitioner was instructed by her employer to limit all patient appointments to 12 minutes. Putting tight time limits like that on physicians almost guarantees that they’re constantly going to be multitasking (i.e. looking at their computer screen or tablet while you’re talking) and rushing to get to the next patient.
We’ve probably all encountered those situations where we’re still asking questions as our doctors are walking out of the exam room door, but if it happens every single time you see your doctor, then maybe you should lighten his workload by being one less patient he has to see.
Reason #6: He disrespects you
This can come in many forms. Maybe he yells or laughs at you. Maybe he shames you for taking pain medications. Maybe he discounts your symptoms (i.e. “oh, you’re just getting older,” “I hurt all the time, too,” etc.). Whatever form it takes, it’s wrong! Don’t let yourself be neglected or abused by the very person who is supposed to be helping you!
Reason #7: He says, “You wouldn’t have fibro if…”
There are too many variations of “you wouldn’t have fibro if…” to list, but here are some common ones:
You wouldn’t have fibro if you lost some weight.
You wouldn’t have fibro if you exercised.
You wouldn’t have fibro if you would just get up and move more.
Yes, there are studies that say exercise is helpful for managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Yes, many of us do feel better when we’re closer to our ideal weight. Yes, it’s good to be active.
But there is NO study anywhere that says fibromyalgia is caused by being fat, lazy or not exercising. Exercise is NOT a cure for fibromyalgia, and neither is diet. They are tools – not cures! Your doctor knows this, and it’s disingenuous to imply otherwise.
Reason #8: He tells you to “stop thinking about it”
One time I had a doctor say to me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you need to stop thinking so much about your pain.”
Yeah, doc, you’re absolutely right. If I just stop thinking about my pain, it will disappear! Wow, you’ve cured me! (Insert eye roll here.)
Needless to say, I am no longer a patient of that doctor because he obviously doesn’t understand the day-to-day life of a chronic pain patient. I don’t know why some doctors try to invalidate our symptoms. Maybe they feel helpless that their usual tools – pharmaceutical drugs and surgery – can’t fix us.
But regardless of why, if a physician’s advice is to “stop thinking about it,” that’s a signal that you may need to start thinking about replacing him!
Reason #9: He says, “At least you don’t have cancer”
Look, I know the big “C” strikes terror in pretty much everyone. I don’t discount how serious it is, but at least cancer has a finality about it. As harsh as this sounds, you either get better or you die, and in most cases, you’ll know the outcome fairly quickly.
With fibromyalgia, you’re basically suffering for years and years with no end in sight. Maybe there will be a breakthrough in research tomorrow, or maybe it’ll be 100 years from now when all of us are long gone. Who knows if and when the pain will end?
Comparing fibromyalgia to cancer is another way for physicians to invalidate us as patients, and it’s just plain wrong!
Reason #10: He blames everything on fibromyalgia
After you’ve had fibromyalgia for a while, it’s easy to ascribe every new symptom to “just fibro.” But what if those heart palpitations are a sign of a more serious problem? What if that pain in your hip is actually osteoarthritis and could be remedied with the right medication? What if the majority of your fatigue isn’t caused by fibromyalgia but by an undiagnosed thyroid condition?
Don’t allow your physician (or yourself) to fall into the habit of blaming every new symptom on “just fibro” because doing so can lead to unnecessary suffering and have tragic outcomes. You need a physician who will dig deeper and try to find the underlying causes of your symptoms. If your doctor isn’t doing that, then it may be time for you to dig into your health insurance’s online provider portal and find a new doctor!
Now it’s your turn…What’s the worst thing a physician has ever said to you? Would you add anything to this list? Share in the comments!
Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.