Why I’m Such a Lousy Patient


I do not love thee, Dr. Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not love thee, Dr. Fell.

— Tom Brown

My first memory of being in a doctor’s office is not a happy one.  It was the day my mother took me in to get my “booster shots” for kindergarten.  I remember being told that I would barely feel it.  “Just a pinch” the nurse said right before I felt a searing hot pain in my sensitive little buttock which immediately caused me to issue forth a shriek of pain and indignation. Thus began a long and difficult relationship between me and my doctors.

Fortunately, my mother was not a worry-wort, so I rarely saw the inside of a doctor’s office after that.  I was in my mid-teens by the time I had another unpleasant medical experience.  I had been feeling so tired and depressed that I was truly frightened for myself.  My mother insisted on taking me in for a blood test in spite of all my vehement protestations.  I was absolutely indignant that I should have to endure what I assumed would be a very painful jab just to find out how I could feel better.

The visit to the doctor was worse than anything I had imagined.  Not only was I required to present my arm for the requisite jab, but I was also sent to radiology for a head x-ray to check for a sinus infection for which I had no symptoms at all (the x-ray was clear).  And worst of all was that the doctor wanted to perform a pelvic exam, which I flatly refused, a pelvic exam seeming like an unthinkably horrid bodily violation to my 15-year-old mind.  The doctor unwillingly relented and instead wrote a prescription for a sulfonamide antibiotic.

After taking two doses of the medication, I began to have probably the most harrowing experience of my childhood up until that time.  My entire body broke out in agonizingly itchy and painful hives.  I began to experience involuntary body movements.  And all I could do was cry.  The worst thing about this was that the antibiotics turned out to be completely unnecessary.  I did not have a bacterial infection.  I had nutrient deficiencies which were quickly and easily taken care of after my grandmother gave me a bottle of liquid vitamins.

My experiences with doctors were not all bad.  Not long after the above mentioned debacle, my parents began seeing a homeopathically trained medical doctor.  It was under her care that my father experienced near-remission from his Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  It was also under her care that I was prescribed a homeopathic remedy which has been my friend for many years.  At the time, I had been suffering from severe abdominal cramping which prevented me from participating in P.E. at school.  After a ten-day course of Phosphorous 30c, I had no more cramps.  I also felt wonderful and began to gain weight until I was at a normal, healthy 118 lbs.  This happy state of health lasted throughout the remainder of my teen years.

During my first homesick year of marriage my health again took a nosedive.  The terrible abdominal cramps came back even worse than before.  On one occasion it hurt so badly that I became concerned enough to go to the hospital.  After a perfunctory manual abdominal exam, the physician on call basically  sneered at me and accused me of hypochondria.  I felt utterly humiliated.  And I knew he was wrong.

On another occasion, I went to the doctor because I had been experiencing severe shortness of breath.  This doctor happened to be particularly experienced and perceptive and he correctly guessed that I was unable to get a deep breath because I was depressed.  But instead of attempting to help me to get to the bottom of it by referring me to a counselor, he brought out his prescription pad.  I left the office with my first prescription for an antidepressant, which I promptly tossed in the nearest trash receptacle.  I knew why I was unhappy and it had nothing to do with a Prozac deficiency.  I thus postponed for many years my initiation into the nightmare world of psychiatric drugging.  Read about it here

In 1995 I became pregnant for the first time.  I was over the moon!  I had dreamed all my life of having my own child.  In view of what I had already experienced, I knew that I needed to find someone I could trust to take care of me.  I did find that person in a certified nurse-midwife (CNM).  It was the first time since I’d seen the homeopath in my teens that I felt almost comfortable in a medical setting.  My midwife was a very soft-spoken and tender-hearted lady who really listened to her patients.  I found myself not wanting our appointments to end so that I could sit with her and ask endless questions.

My only problem was that I had learned to hate hospitals, and for good reason.  Statistics reveal that hospitals can be very dangerous places.  They tend to harbor some of the most dangerous pathogens known to man, and because of the impersonal, bureaucratic way they are organized, injuries to patients because of medical mistakes are all too common.  In spite knowing all this, I made the decision to have my baby in the hospital simply because I liked my midwife, and she did not perform home births.

The first time I went into labor, I became so nervous that my labor stopped.  The rough initial pelvic exam by a complete stranger did not help matters I’m sure.  I went home feeling defeated and frustrated.  The second time I was admitted, I left sick and in terrible pain, but with a  precious baby in my arms.  I was unbelievably grateful for that healthy little boy, but my hospital experience left psychological scars that would take a long time to heal.  The sense of exposure and violation that I felt during my labor and birth was profound.

Although my midwife was a very compassionate person, she, like all cogs in a great machine, had little control over how I was treated after I entered that machine.  The regular mandatory pelvic exams were humiliating, painful, and unnecessary, leaving me feeling like livestock rather than like a human.  The forced removal of my own clothing, replaced by a skimpy, ugly hospital gown, had the psychological effect of making me feel like hospital property.  I felt under siege the whole time.  Although I had written an official birth-plan, I understood that this birth plan put me at odds with the hospital staff who just wanted me to be good and comply.

As a result, I believe, of the mental and emotional tension created by being in a hospital environment, I had a long, slow, very painful labor and delivery.  During transition, which is the most painful part of labor, I quietly cried through each agonizing contraction as my mother tirelessly put pressure on my aching low back.  I was too cowed to release my pain by vocalizing, which is how I was able to deal with pain during my subsequent home deliveries.

It took 3 1/2 long, horrible hours from the time I was instructed to start pushing until my baby was finally born.  Much of that time was spent in fruitless effort which would have been much better spent moving about until I actually felt a true urge to push.  Right before I was wheeled in to the OR to have a C-section, my husband begged our midwife to let me try just a little longer to have a natural birth.  Her compromise was to start an IV drip of Pitocin to give my tired uterus a kick in the pants.  Shortly after that, my son emerged dark purple, quickly took his first breath, and began screaming his outrage.

Probably because of the long pushing stage, I began to hemorrhage.  This might be why the nurses gave me too much saline solution in my IV, and why I developed water poisoning.  My face blew up like a puffer fish.  I was so weak that I was unable to stand up even to go to the restroom for many hours.

It was extremely important to me that my baby be exclusively breast-fed, much to the consternation of my nurses.  Because they were not allowed to give bottles, they became rather frantic about getting the boy to latch on to my breast.  He just couldn’t seem to do it all the while we were in the hospital.  I resorted to expressing colostrum into a spoon and feeding it to him, drop by drop.  I began to get the sense that what we both needed more than anything was peace.   We needed to go home.  I signed myself out AMA, and off we went with our little bundle in his baby bucket.  As soon as I got into my comfortable, familiar bed, my baby boy nursed for the first time and he never had any more trouble.

Immediately after my son was born, I felt intense joy and gratitude.  I thanked all the nurses with tears in my eyes.  I was in awe at what my body had done, and very proud.  But in the months following, I began to deal with trauma related to some aspects of my hospital experience.  I realized that it had not been at all what I had wished for and expected.  In a way, I felt violated.  I had acquiesced to many procedures which felt invasive to me not because I agreed that they were necessary, but because I felt forced.  I felt that I could not say no.  Even now, 16 years later, it brings tears to my eyes to think of that.

As a young mother, I was still in the thrall of the medical establishment, although my instincts were warning me that our doctor, after all, may not have always known what was best for us.  I remember feeling deeply suspicious of vaccines.  My sister-in-law informed me that I should stay away from vaccine information or I would not want to do it.  That was dismaying to say the least.  But I went ahead and kept all of our “well child” visits.  All my questions about vaccine safety were quickly swept under the rug, which increased my trepidation.

Shortly after receiving his 2 month vaccinations, my baby began to shriek uncontrollably and in a way that I’d never heard before.  I was truly scared.  This went on for quite some time until he finally fell silent, lying limp and white in my arms.  He was conscious, but unresponsive.  Happily, he recovered, although many babies are not so fortunate.

Relatively early on, my son developed severe constipation.  He regularly went 7-8 days without having a bowel movement.  I mentioned this concern to his doctor, who assured me that it was perfectly normal.  So I allowed that state of affairs to continue on unchecked until at 4 months of age my baby became gravely ill.

To be continued…


4 thoughts on “Why I’m Such a Lousy Patient

  1. I don’t know when, modern medicine will begin to acknowledge the emotional damage they do to patients, whether they cure them or not? My husband is a multi-published medical researcher. Pretty much every psychologically influenced study is rejected by the highly respected journal he is an editor for. They don’t have interest in the impact of medical intervention on patient emotional welfare.
    I am a early retired therapist who worked in hospitals for almost a decade.
    I am disugusted by this.

  2. I am too. I’ve thought about entering the medical field as a massage therapist, but I would never be able to work within the hospital system or even an conventional doctor’s office without losing my mind, I think. There are many sincere people working within the system who ARE losing their minds and I feel for them.

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