medical

An Open Letter to Doctors: Stigmas Are Negative Messages

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Stigma (Noun) Defined:

“A set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.”

Dear Doctors:

I understand your profession requires skill, strength, patience, and dedication. I am in no way undermining your work or your place in my life and the many things you have done to save me. Yet still, I wish to write to you openly today to express my sincere sadness, anxiety, and humiliation over recent treatment I received in the medical field because I am part of a stigma.

If you have not yet read my Pathway to Freedom, I encourage you to do so.

My struggle with opiate dependence and my journey to recovery has been no secret. I chose not to hide behind the curtains of secrecy that often come with facing a chemical dependence on prescription pain medications. I have sought therapy and help with my anxiety associated with parting ways with opiates on a regular basis. I have become a bigger and better person, I am stronger. My entire blog is dedicated to my journey as well as to mental health in general – relating to others, helping others, listening and offering support.

Just recently I came down with a weird set of symptoms that I could not define. Severe back pain coupled with another severe symptom I would rather not blog about.

Oh do not laugh – I know I blog about EVERYTHING – but for the sake of those who may be eating dinner, let’s say, mine was not exactly staying in – severely. This continued for two weeks.

I am new to my area. I moved here to be closer to family in September 2013. I have an OBGYN here, a pain management doctor that I parted ways with recently, a therapist, and a psychiatrist. I had yet to find a primary care physician and decided this time around instead of spending hundreds of dollars at the emergency room or at urgent care – I would finally make a relationship with a family doctor.

Their introduction was fantastic. They were kind, fast, and very attentive. My lab results were in within 24 hours. I was called personally. Another set of labs would take longer – but I would be informed, they said. At no time during this appointment did I request any narcotic pain medication. I simply asked for answers.

Upon finding out that my results were all negative for anything major – the back pain was so severe and the other symptoms continued so I sought out the help of the emergency room for a catscan. These results were negative for anything that needed immediate attention. I called my new doctor and let him know and asked him for other suggestions. I then saw a stomach doctor as well as an orthopedist. During these visits it was discovered that I have a severely sprained back that is causing continuous muscle spasms. It’s possible I have a torn disc in my lumbar region and my entire insides below are simply traumatized. Once again, despite the pain, I did not ask for and was not prescribed any narcotic pain medication.

Color me shocked when yesterday – a courier stopped by my door. It was no sooner than the orthopedist that my primary doctor referred me to found the sprain and other issues – that this letter came into my hands. It was from my new primary doctor. It read, in a nutshell, that my previous records had been obtained and my prescription history reveals I am known as a “doctor shopper” – an “addict” and am no longer allowed at their practice or to be treated at any of their facilities in the city.

I just about fell over.

I have never once in my life doctor shopped. I am very much against this practice. My previous medications were obtained legally and for medically proven specified reasons by the same set of doctors at the same practice. While I did go through withdrawals upon stepping off the medications this is not uncommon for a patient who has been on such high doses for such a long period of time. Within the letter was a flyer to a recovery center “go and seek help” it said. Funny it was the same recovery center I went to in December to be evaluated to be sure I did not need any further treatment or to see if I even qualified as an addict at all.

Allow me to digress but the results from the addiction specialist confirmed that I am not an addict nor do I have any addictive tendencies. My prescription records were scrutinized for 3 hours as was I before this determination was made.

My question to you is – why would you ever trash a patient like paperwork through a shredder without asking them for an explanation? 

You are subjecting innocent people to the biggest problem: a stigma.

I believe this sends a negative message. Denying medical care to a person without questioning or further investigating what you see on paper is very irresponsible, humiliating, and heart breaking to a patient who – since you never asked or cared enough to know – worked very hard to get to this point. I also forgot the part where I asked you for narcotic pain medications.

Is it because I came into your office and said I was in pain? Because I told you I was making you my primary doctor that you went and got all my records and jumped to a conclusion without going straight to the source – or for that matter, allowing an ailing patient to defend herself?

It is very disturbing to me that patients can be so easily ignored and kicked to the curb by medical professionals that are supposed to protect them. While I did not disclose my previous history to you in my appointment – it is because I am still learning to trust medical professionals after my recent experiences. I wanted to build a rapport and have you understand and know me before I opened up to you. This is quite possibly my fault – I’m sure, because you are not emotionally attached to me and you had never met me before that day, that you automatically assumed that I fall into the same category as those who abuse the system in order to obtain controlled prescriptions for recreational use.

I am not one of these people.

Your snap judgement has caused me heart break, anxiety, and distress that is truly unnecessary. It is a very lost and lonely feeling to know that a doctor you were trying to use as your family provider no longer wishes to provide to you based on a stigma – without any defense from an innocent patient.

While I did take up this issue with the Executive Director of the practice in question and with the doctor himself – I am writing to all doctors that work in any field where this may be an issue. It is one thing to tell a patient that because of their history you cannot provide controlled medications – yet you can still treat them in other ways.

It’s another to completely kick a patient out of your facility based on paperwork. I am a human. I am further than words, prescriptions, and whatever other reports you obtained that may have painted me in a light that you did not appreciate.

Through it all, I never have requested any controlled medications from that practice or any other provider. Would it hurt you so bad to bring a patient in on your precious time and ask them to elaborate? Is it truly against your will to find compassion because I thought that was part of your oath you were asked to take when you became a doctor?

Holding patients as stigmas causes such negative feelings of humiliation and distrust. I now have to search for another provider and am worried, scared, and anxious I will never be able to receive treatment for true problems because of a difficult past that I worked very hard to correct and to be frank – I was never wrong or abused the system in the first place.

I beg you to question yourselves as you practice each day. While I understand you keep emotional distance from your patients – it does not mean that you cannot dig deeper to better understand the measures a patient has taken to willingly fight a very difficult disease that, in my case and in many, is involuntary.

Please do not subject innocent women like me – innocent men, adults, adolescents, to feeling as though they are so abnormal that you cannot even treat them for a simple sinus infection, or perhaps give a simple referral because I need to see a doctor that is outside of your scope of study. Allow patients to feel welcome, understood, and above all: not judged.

I never got a phone call, an office meeting, or a personal voice message. I got a typed letter that was clearly copied from a template with a scribble of a signature on the bottom. This completely hurt my feelings and makes me question the integrity of doctors in the medical field who claim they are all for supporting patients in every way – including recovery.

This is not supportive or understanding – this is judgmental, unfair, and will affect me greatly now and in the future as I learn to work forward from this. This could affect anyone who may not have been as strong or in the position as myself to be able to recover at the pace that I did. You should reach out your hands – never take them away and leave your patients feeling desperate, uncared for, and worthless.

I never lied to my new doctor. He, however, lied to me when he said he was happy to have me join the practice.

That could turn any person in need of help into such a shameful place that it may have more negative effects than you ever intended.

I hope this message gets across to as many doctors as possible. I understand you hold high standards because you are licensed. I realize that others hold you to that standard and you are monitored- yet the realization is, people who have fought addiction whether it be now, in the past, or in the future – are still human beings with souls. We are far more than statistics – and a piece of paper or file folder you can just shred and throw away.

Let that be a lesson taught that maybe a patient can teach you – rather than you teaching the patient. Sometimes we’re wiser.

Because we’re people too.

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