When A Doctor Gives Up On A Patient

When A Doctor Gives Up On A Patient

By Donna Gregory Burch

Donna Gregory Burch

Donna Gregory Burch

I’ve been working remotely with a fibromyalgia specialist for the past nine months, and we had our final phone consult on Monday. My contract is up this month, and I won’t be renewing for another three months.

I think we’re both relieved.

Our phone calls had become more tense and uncomfortable over the past few months. At some point, it became evident to both of us that I was going to be THAT patient … that patient who isn’t getting better … that patient who isn’t going to be a success story.

My doctor likes to publish patient success stories on his website, and I’d read so many of these during our first months of working together, hopeful that one day my photo and story would encourage others, too.

But a couple of months ago, I started to feel sad and a little bit resentful when I received his weekly emails and read the stories of fibro patients who were recovering. I wondered again and again, “Why them? Why are they getting their life back and not me?”

I’d been a good patient. I’d followed doctor’s orders. I’d bought all of the expensive supplements and diligently taken them morning, noon and night like I was supposed to. I’d lost 40+ pounds. I’d given up gluten. I hadn’t had a doughnut – one of my favorite things in the world! – in months. I’d stopped eating pretty much anything that might cause inflammation. I had worked so hard at getting better.

And for a few months, it felt like I was making progress. My sleep was much improved. I had more energy.

But my fibromyalgia pain lingered. Some days it was better, but it was always still there.

At some point, I clicked the “unsubscribe” button on my doctor’s weekly emails because I just didn’t need another reminder that my longed-for recovery was stalled.

And then the questioning began. Every time my doctor and I had an appointment, I’d ask, “Is there anything else I can try? Do you have any suggestions?” Sometimes he’d recommend another supplement, or more often, he’d stutter and try to change the subject. After a few weeks of this, I finally figured out he was all out of answers, and we were just biding our time until my contract was over.

During one appointment, his frustration bubbled over as he said I needed to stop focusing so much on my pain. Yeah, let me try that as my legs ache like abscesses, and my feet burn like I’m walking on fire. I will just stop thinking about it…

(To be fair, he did preface his comment by saying, “Don’t take this the wrong way but …”)

Before I hired him, I spent several hours researching his practice and treatment protocol online. I didn’t find a single negative patient review, and I won’t be the patient to write one either. He’s helped me more than any other doctor I’ve worked with, but I’ll admit the progress I’ve made isn’t worth the 24 months of credit card payments I’ll be making to pay off his fees. Still, I’m grateful for any improvement.

During our final appointment earlier this week, I could hear it in his voice … I’d failed him. Our conversation felt like any number of breakups I’ve been through in my life. I kept rambling about “not giving up” and how I’ll “keep looking for answers,” but I could tell he just wanted to get off the phone. Mentally and emotionally, he’d already severed our doctor-patient relationship because I’m THAT patient … the one who brings down his success rate. He’d rather move on to the next patient on his schedule … one who might actually make a recovery. Instead, he’s listening to me – for the umpteenth time – ask, “Is there anything else I can try?”

And then he said it – what I’ve known he’s wanted to say for at least the past three months: “No, I think we’ve exhausted everything…”

There it is. He’s given up on me. It’s over.

My jaded husband says my doctor has been paid, and now he’s moving on to other patients. My hubby says my doctor doesn’t care about me at all. I don’t want to believe that’s true.

Just as his weekly newsletters were a continual reminder of me being an imperfect patient, I prefer to believe that my repeated complaints of pain are a reminder that he’s an imperfect healer … that his protocol doesn’t work for everyone.

Doctors want their patients to get better. They want to have the answers. They want to heal others. And yet there’s always THAT patient … that patient who does all the right things and still doesn’t get better … that patient who just doesn’t respond to treatment …and THAT patient just happens to be me.

So what now? I start over. I find another doctor…

I hope this one doesn’t give up.

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. 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.

Subscribe to our blog via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Authored by: Donna Gregory Burch

There are 19 comments for this article
  1. JRL at 4:20 pm

    I am a 45 year old male. I was diagnosed with FM four years ago. Every single day I am in pain. Sleep helps while exercise easily triggers flareups. Flexeril helps at night and nothing helps the rest of the time. It’s a trade off between major and minor suffering. One of the biggest challenges dealing with FM is that others don’t know what it is or they just don’t understand. I hear comments like “You look great”, “You seemed fine yesterday”, and “Are you STILL not feeling well??”

    It is difficult to not participate in life but it is also simply not possible. My life is forever changed by FM, physically, emotionally and socially.

    At the end of the day when the doctors who treat us for 11-minutes go home to their lives while we are trapped in our beds, we have to be our own best health advocates. We must find the things that help even if only for minor temporary improvement. We must create the best life for ourselves under these circumstances. We must survive this.

  2. Kimkimcherie at 8:40 am

    Hugs. Just hugs. Don’t give up. He failed you. My neuro will say, “you’ve tried everything”, which is simply not true. And, if I ask about meds and treatments I read about online, he rejects them. He has only a few tools in his toolkit. Unwilling to expand.

  3. Bri at 4:24 pm

    Donna, so many of these comments are true. You didn’t fail that doctor, he failed you. And because he doesn’t retain other patients he fails to help or allow their comments or messages to be seen by his other patients, you don’t know how many others like you there are. He’s not interested in keeping track, therefore, those who don’t reinforce his ego or pad his bank account don’t matter to him (that should be telling you something about his lack of character and ethics). For all you know, there could be twice as many like you as there are “success stories.” There could be ten times as many like you. For all you know, the so-called success stories may not even have fibromyalgia. In fact, for all you know, this doctor’s “success stories” may not even exist…people post fake positive reviews and fake positive comments to promote their businesses all the time. It’s called marketing and it isn’t always done honestly or ethically, even by so-called medical professionals. Some of them aren’t always that professional or in that “profession” for the right reasons.

    The fact that this “doctor” spent a long time collecting a lot of money from you, probably charging you far more for supplements than you could have paid for them elsewhere, dispensing questionable advice you likely could have gotten free from the Internet makes him a fraud and a charlatan.

    We all know the saying, “if it sounds too good to be true….” That’s why you’ve been left with the conclusion that you were the one who failed. Forget him, Donna. You’ve been the victim of a greedy narcissist. You were conned.

    Chances are, if any of those positive reviews were written by real people, they were lies written by people who were so afraid to be dropped by this awful excuse for a doctor, thinking he was the best they could do, that they are still being fleeced while putting up with his pathetic excuse for care. You are far better off for having been honest with yourself about how you feel and what you expect from a doctor.

    Keep being honest with yourself and never again fall for an egotistical, narcissistic quack who charges too much money to dispense anything but real medical care again. It was an expensive learning experience, but hopefully, you’ve learned a great deal from it, like doctors aren’t gods and don’t believe everything you read, even from a doctor. Now move on with your head held high. You are not a failure.

    And use every opportunity that you can (without being sued for anything) to inform others to avoid that awful quack unless they have tons of time to waste and money to burn!

  4. Kathy Hastings at 12:03 pm

    I have an idea for you; most doctors never do this, but, I was fortunate to be sent to a neurologist, who was always thinking outside the box. I think everyone should have this blood work completed; however, you may have to see a dr, who specializes in infectious diseases because of the type of blood work. Blood work is taken and tested for viral infections in the body. This is actually how I ended up with a dx of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the beginning of my health issues. My blood work came back showing very high levels of Epstein-Barr, Mono, Chicken Pox , Herpes and others. In my case, I had undx Celiac Disease and my body was so busy attacking the gluten; dormant (immunity to) viruses became active and attacked my Central Nervous System, leaving me with permanent nerve damage. I was put on an anti-viral medication to put the viruses in check. I had to have new blood work every 6 mos to check viral levels and make adjustments to anti-viral med, if necessary. I have had so many flare ups in the past 6 mos., I am going to discuss with my pm at my next appt about having viral levels checked (if he can do it or do I need to go to infectious disease dr?). Just a thought; it won’t cure you, but it may help get viruses in check, to make you feel less pain and be able to be more functional in your life. Best wishes!

  5. Joanna at 11:36 am

    So sorry you had to go through this, Donna…I had a similar experience years back, with an alternative doctor who actually told me I was “too much of a liability” and refused to see me again! I was literally speechless.

  6. carol at 11:24 am

    Donna, here is an example of fibromyalgia.

    Fibromyalgia has central nervous system origins
    Date:
    May 17, 2015
    Source:
    American Pain Society
    Summary:
    Fibromyalgia is the second most common rheumatic disorder behind osteoarthritis and, though still widely misunderstood, is now considered to be a lifelong central nervous system disorder, which is responsible for amplified pain that shoots through the body in those who suffer from it. Researchers have analyzed the neurological basis for fibromyalgia.

  7. Carol at 10:43 am

    Donna, I hope I can share my thoughts and experience with you and help you think differently.

    I am 71 yrs old women, I have had fibromyalgia since 1990.

    I don’t understand what you meant by “contract” with your Dr, I’ve NEVER heard that term before. I also don’t understand “PHONE” appointment, didn’t you see him in the office where you have a real eye to eye conversation? The huge RED flag for me is the doctor selling you vitamins and indicating that they will be a cure!

    You have fibromyalgia, there is NO CURE for this illness, not yet. Naturally you can help yourself by exercising and getting enough sleep. You are not making Fibromyalgia better, it is what it is.

    Now about his wonderful “I cured” fibro. emails, you seem to be easily taken in or you don’t understand internet sites. This Dr. can get people to write good emails for him he can and did remove email he didn’t like.

    Fibromyalgia studies are getting close to finding out about the cause and even why we hurt. The last review I read said our nerve endings is where are pain is. That is why you hurt to much. There have been many studies that said the problem was in our heads (nerves). I feel like the best study is the one saying it is in all of our nerves; to me that is more likely.

    You may want to stop trying so hard, paying Dr’s all that money is never going to cure you. All that Dr was doing was getting as much money out of you, that is all.

    Read some of the pain and fibromyalgia sites . Personally I look for sites that are involved with “NEWS”; I don’t like to be on sites where people are there just to complain. I want to problem solve.

    I hope I gave you something to think about. Oh, heating pads are wonderful.

  8. John S at 10:43 am

    Sounds more like a guy running a Health Clinic than a medical doctor. News Letters emails – what’s it all about ?

    Is this guy a MD ? Or a Chiropractor?

    I’ve never heard or seen a Dr selling supplements out of his office except my Chiropractor and he’s just one of 3 Dr’s treating me for pain and nerve issues.

    Thanks,

    John S

  9. Dave at 10:16 am

    Society and medicine have turned conscientious objectors when it comes to providing requested treatment for people in pain. In this regard, it is clear that society and medicine is not focused on the good of the person in pain- they are focused on the biopolitics of pain care that minimizes the voice and input of people in pain in their own care. It begs the question who and what is pain care for? Whose pain is it anyway?
    Pain care holds a mirror up to our society and our institutions- and i’m not liking what I see in that reflection- its pretty grotesque and ungodly.
    The unconvincing and quite varied rhetoric doctors, government, insurers are using to justify their new revolutionary approach to pain care is such stuff as comictragedy is made of.
    Its time to see the powers that be in pain care and society for what they are and call for real change.

  10. Mary Dunigan at 10:12 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this! You are a hundred percent correct! If a doctor no longer feels a benefit to themselves! They seem quick to place the blame on the patient and never on themselves! Minimally their job is to provide hope! I too have been “dumped” only after my doc of ten years retired! I then was unable to find any primary to take me! Not even to address my non chronic pain issues! Ended up with the worst pain clinic doc ever! Their poor treatment has prevented me from seeing any doctor! Now I just suffer to extremes I never thought humanly possible! If a doctor no longer feels they have the ability to help you than minimally they need to send you in the direction of someone that can!

  11. Barbara Hite at 9:12 am

    Donna, Did you ever think that maybe you didn’t fail him as being THAT PATIENT, be he failed you as he wasn’t a Good DOCTOR? I’ve been to many Drs and I’ve heard it all by now. He sounds like a complete [edit] that was just out for your money and never cared about how you ever felt. I hope you can find a fibromyalgia Dr. Especially in VA. IF YOU DO LET ME KNOW, I’M STILL LOOKING MYSELF.
    BArbor in VA

  12. Cathy M at 7:32 am

    If he were an honest doctor, you’d be in his newsletter with the honest but unsuccessful attempt. And may I suggest that if you were an honest patient, you’d write this post as a patient review, mentioning the good and the bad – at the very least to protect the next patient like you who is researching and hoping!! Yes, we all want success, but anyone over the age of 10 who squashes all mention of failure is failing – right there – in his/her relationship with the other.

    I’m sorry it didn’t work for you, but I encourage you to do you YOU can: post an honest patient review – that will give you and your husband an idea who was right. If you can continue to feel better other than the pain, perhaps you can build on what you have and address the pain as its own disease (which researchers are now suggesting it is – a hyperarousal of the nervous system that amplifies rather than dampens pain sensations.) Don’t give up, and thank you for posting your story!

  13. scott michaels at 6:53 am

    there are many conditons that cause pain. Mant are uncurable, in my case i would need several surgeries. Although my pain is a 9 or 10 and was for years, all my doctors said was operate, operate, operate. In doing my due diligence i foumd that if i had these surgeries my pain had a 10% chance of going away, 80% chance of staying the same with mobility complications and 10 % of getting much worse.
    I tried everything. Even some of the quack therapies. Although the stigma of opioid therapy is what it is, i decided to try it. It was my last resort, i k ew it was a life sentence,but if it worked i didnt care. I knew it was highly addictive and i was worried i would enjoy it too much and be like the knuckleheads that finish their monthly medications in a week or two and i would spiral out of control and end up in rehab.
    Guess what? that was not the case!
    It sounds like you have a husband that supports you. He is right your Doc got his money and moved on
    Anybody that brags of his success storied is just an egotistical moron
    Fibro has no cure! So if he claims of success stories, theyre lies. Supplements dont help the pain and not eating doughnuts make it worse. Stress doesnt help with pain, it does make it worse. however a stress free life doesnt make the pain go away.
    Back to me. Once i did start the opioid therapy,I was shocked it wasnt working. Also there was no euphoric feeling people speak of.
    The doc kept slowly increasing the dosage, afrer about 3 months, SUCCESS! the pain was now.a bearable 2 to 4.
    Because of my concerns of addiction, I asked my wife to lock them up and give me my daily doses. the pain is bad when i wake up but once i take a pill, i can get our of bed and start my day. Its not perfect, some days, especially when whe weather changes, my pain is worse 4 to 6, but some days I feel good, i stay busy and forget to take a pill. On those very few days, I know its working. So my suggestion is to find a pain specialist that uses opiois therapy and have some one to dole out your medicine. FYI TO THIS DAY AFTER 7 YEARS, I HAVE NEVER BEEN HI, I CAN DRIVE, I CAN DO SOME PHYSICAL WORK AND I AM HAPPIER BECAUSE I AM NO LONGER BEDRIDDEN, AND I CAN BE A PART OF MY FAMILIES LIFE.
    BY THE WAY I TAKE 8 VERY STRONG PAIN PILLS A DAY and never felt this euphoric.feeling. THIS TELLS ME THE IDIOTS THAT OD OR DIE FROM THESE PILLS MUST SWALLOW HANDFULLS TO GET LOADED, When taken only as directed and dedicate yourself to try to keep busy I know thiis therapy works for me and hundreds of thousands of others. Dont let the stigma and news stories stop you from trying to be pain free
    And have a krispy creame!

  14. Jeannah Haber at 6:47 am

    Kudos to you for going through it all! I’m sorry it didn’t turn out as well as you’d hoped. The thing that almost knocked me out of my chair was, here, a supposed fibro specialist saying “you needed to stop focusing so much on your pain”. That is part of the crux of misunderstanding of fibromyalgia, a large majority of people, apparently doctors included, think you can just put the pain out of your mind.

    I’ve had fibro for 19 years and some kind of chronic pain or another (ruptured disk in lower back, endometriosis, etc.) my entire life and I know fibro is not the most painful thing in the human existence, but, there is nothing else like it. It’s every day and random, ranging in intensity from annoying at best to debilitating at worst. I don’t dwell on it, I adjust, adapt, rest, otherwise I wouldn’t have survived all these years. There is not a single day over the last 18 years that I have been pain free except for part of the 10 days I was on prednisone for a horrible allergic penicillin reaction last year.

    We keep on keeping on and keep on searching and fighting. Gentle hugs to you!

  15. Karen Jaggar at 6:16 am

    Donna:
    Let me suggest that take a new look and alter your perception of yourself.

    You did not fail.

    That you did not respond to this particular physician’s protocol for fibromyalgia does not mean that you failed.

    It means that this protocol was not the correct treatment for your particular syndrome of fibromyalgia symptoms.

    The understanding of fibromyalgia is still in its early days. There is much that physicians do not understand of fibromyalgia’s presentation and debilitating features.

    Doctors like to treat patients with conditions/diseases with known trajectories of improvement and getting better.

    The more difficult situations for doctors are ones where the “answer” to feeling better remains elusive.

    I have several chronic medical conditions. None of them are amenable to being “fixed.” The best that the science of medicine can offer me is some measure of symptom relief.

    You did not fail. Medical science has failed you. There is more for medical science to learn and understand about the syndrome of fibromyalgia.

    Continue on. As best as you can. Adapt and adjust. And know that you are not alone. Keep hope for better days ahead.

  16. Maureen at 6:05 am

    Donna, is this regarding Dr. Pridgen that you recently raved about and his treatment study?!
    I’m so sorry that your journey has taken a detour. I was very hopeful for you.
    Keep strong and strive forward.
    You can do it!! Maureen

  17. Doug at 4:40 am

    I do have to admit that having the support of a doctor who wants to see improvement would be a sweet change for most of us. So many of us walk into our monthly appointments and know just what to expect. We sign in with the receptionist, he or she hands us a specimen cup for a UA, we pay our copayment and head to the restroom to pee in the cup.
    Then we return the cup to the technician and wait for our name to be called as we fill out our questionnaire on amount of medication we take, if the meds are still effective, if we are pain we are experiencing more pain then usual, and finally if we have used any illegal drugs since the last visit.
    Once our name is called we are shown to an examination room where the nurse proceeds to count our meds and ask all the same questions that you’ve already filled out on the evaluation form while you waited to be seen. She inputs the information into the computerand goes over what refills you are going to need. Then she closes down her laptop and says the doctor will be right with you.
    15 minutes later the doctor comes in and you start the whole process all over again. The doctor makes you stand up and rock back on your heels first and then stand on tippy toes while looking at the display of pain in your face. He or she then signs the prescriptions and sends you on your way.
    Five minutes with the nurse, 5 minutes with the doctor, a total of 30 minutes of waiting all together, $50 copay and $250 charged to insurance. But at least I get a free cup of coffee out of the deal.
    I’m beginning to think that maybe I shouldn’t pay until after I see the doctor but he doesn’t work that way. I wish that he examine me more efficiently. I wish he would talk about other possibilities for getting the pain just a little more under control. But I believe that he just refers to my chart and sees all that my doctors in Michigan had done and realizes that I may have exhausted most every option that could have worked for me.
    So yes, I believe that I am one of those patients myself. As you said, I’m the one that chiropractics and physical therapy fails to help. The one that epidural injections and stimulator implants totally failed on. One of the only things that has helped other than opiates has been Meditation through Tai Chi. Long before my surgeries I practiced martial arts. I had all but given up on it until I read an article about healing the mind helps to heal the body. I started practicing it again about a year and a half ago and since I have cut my opiate dosage in half. Don’t get me wrong, the pain is still there, I just deal with it differently.

  18. Kristine at 3:32 am

    I’m so sorry to read about your doctor giving up. I have heard of others having this happen to them too. I once had a rheumatologist who gave up on me. It felt horrible. Honestly it’s them, not us!
    I think fibro patients are so difficult to treat they get frustrated and just quit.
    I agree with your husband, he has his guaranteed money coming, why should he try harder.
    My current rheumatologist told me that patients like us overwhelm doctors because we aren’t all treated the same, and many if us have several diagnosises.
    How frustrating this is to have happen. I hope you find a better doctor. I know it’s hard starting sgain, but stick with it, because you’re worth it.
    Gentle hugs