Friday morning filled me with a sense of foreboding. I showered, dressed, and prepared some coffee, trying my best to distract myself and do comforting things so as not to be too terrified of the early afternoon appointment with the neurologist at Emory’s General Neurology Clinic.
As much as I’d gone over it in my mind what I was going to say, and telling myself I could always say no to things I couldn’t help but shed some tears as I waited in the kitchen with my dog, Carmella for the transportation van to pick me up and deliver me to some unknown fate; good or bad, I didn’t know. Despite my best attempts to stay calm I felt like poultry aware of its impending slaughter with every passing minute.
I told myself that at least by going in there even if just to talk to her I’d be established in case I needed one of the specialty clinics later on once the independent evaluations were completed over the next few months, and maybe I wouldn’t be as frightened when the time came to see the out of town Movement Disorder specialist.
It wasn’t long before the driver was knocking on my door, a heavy-set black guy who looked to be somewhere in his 30s. I rushed out in my power wheelchair dressed in black and white long-sleeve print shirt, bright red cotton pants, and a camel brown coat which had soft faux fur on the inside. In my hurry halfway down the ramp to the driveway I realized I’d forgotten my pillow and thought “Oh damn, now my neck is going to kill me by the time this is over” as my wheelchair doesn’t have a proper headrest or any neck support, but it was too late to go back and get it. I had my usual Styrofoam cup of ice water with me and everything else I needed, so I ventured out hoping for the best.
When I reached the waiting van another guy got out and let down the left and I loaded up, then positioned my chair so that they could secure it to the fixtures in the floor. Being that I have a Hoveround, these guys never know how to attach it, so I had to show them where the hooks could be connected so that the ride would be safe. With a little tinkering they got it hooked up and the second man who was chubbier than the first sat down on a bench behind and to the right of me. Halfway down my street as we pulled away I heard loud snores coming from the man behind me. I glanced over and he had dropped his cellphone, slumped over in a half-sitting-half reclining position. I motioned to the driver who seemed unphased though slightly amused and he remarked “Oh yes, he does this all day. All day. It’s just part of the package.”
As we neared our destination the man in the seat behind me was snoring so loud I thought he might have a stroke. I mentioned to the driver that he might want to look into having a sleep study done and said that if the company provided health insurance he could have it done in this same building, that for someone to be sleeping that much on the job wasn’t normal and there had to be something medically wrong. The driver said he was glad someone else noticed and that they’d have to look into that as it would be a good investment, given that he didn’t know whether this guy would keep his job if this continued.
I entered the building, then went to the 5th floor. The waitingroom was modern with a curved wooden front desk and a young woman with black-rimmed glasses and long black hair who appeared to be Indian or Pakistani descent sat behind it on the left, and a young man sat at another computer terminal on the right. A flat screen TV was on mounted on the wall on the left side of the room. There were only a few other patients there sitting in danish-style wooden chairs that were positioned in two rectangular formations on each side with a space for people to walk through in the center.
I went over to the woman behind the reception desk and checked in, and was told that the doctor was running a little late because of a meeting but would be out shortly.
It looked like a group of about 10 men and women filed in and down the hall to the rooms to the back just as I positioned myself near a small end table. I fidgeted a little, rubbed the inside of my furry coat, then decided to get out some pieces of ice to suck on. An elderly man and his wife sat down just to the right of me, and it never fails, when I want to be discreet something like this always happens. The ice had melted slightly and stuck together so a piece I was trying to break off flew across and landed on the carpet in front of me out of reach. Thee wasn’t much room to maneuver my wheelchair and I was afraid I might run over the wife’s foot if I went to pick it up, so I wasn’t sure what exactly to do. Luckily the woman asked if she could help me and got up and deposited it in the sink on the other side near the TV. I thanked her and then got a few pieces of ice, reached over to pick up a National Geographic magazine and began flipping through it to find an article that interested me. Finding one about wolves in Canada I began reading, anything to distract myself. 15 or 20 minutes later a young black woman with thing braided hair extensions called me back to one of the exam rooms. I followed her to one of the ones on the left off the main hall and she took my vital signs.
I asked her to take the BP in my left arm because my right was in quite a bit of pain. It was the muscle that runs near the inside of my elbow to forearm that I’d injured brushing my hair in October the morning before seeing Dr. Trotti, the temporary neurologist connected with the sleep center.
As is often the case my diastolic blood pressure was high. My new patient forms and medication sheet sat on the small nook-like desk by a computer screen. The room was small and minimally decorated with a flat table to the right of where I was sitting and cabinets and a small counter on the left near the door. There was a rolling chair by the computer.
The nurse asked me a few questions, two which I choked out a rather weak and breathy response, told me she hoped I’d feel better, and said the doctor would be in shortly. My arm ached, my neck and back ached, even the muscles in my legs ached and I wished I were home, safe in my bed. I realized my watch had stopped but there was no clock on the wall anywhere. I read some more of the magazine and fiddled with the fur on my coat some more trying to quell the panic rising in my throat. Each minute that passed seemed like an hour.
Then finally there was a knock at the door. It opened and in walked a rather plump woman with a round face who looked almost nothing like the profile picture on Emory’s website. In the picture she was slim and looked no more than 17, but here in person she appeared to be somwhere in her mid to late 30s, rotund, her hair, a streaked blond like in the picture but with more body and cut slightly shorter, a few inches longer than shoulder-length.
She extended her hand. “Hi, I’m D.V.” (gentle hand-shake); so far so good. Although the information on the website said shed been trained in Bogata, Colombia she had almost no accent. Taking a seat in the chair across from me a few feet away she proceeded to tell me she’d read my record. (“Oh shit!”) I thought, and wondered which ones she’d read. I dared not ask, not wanting to open a can of worms. She asked me what brought me in and I recapped my symptoms and referenced what I’d written in the new patient paperwork. I gave her a brief rundown of the history and progression over the past 6 months and after just a few sentences she moved towards where I was sitting in my wheelchair and asked me if I could take a few steps, which I did, then sat back down.
I had already decided all I wanted to do was talk that day, but apparently she had other plans. I watched her carefully to see what she was going to do.
Taking out a penlight she shined it in my eyes. After looking at my eyes she asked me to look at her finger from side to side, up and down.
I tolerated that but in my own mind told myself that was going to be as much as I was going to take of anything of a physical nature. I didn’t know her and didn’t know her agenda just yet and the man who had hurt me with such exam had left a nasty imprint on my limbic system that I couldn’t shake no matter how I tried. I knew only too well that women were capable of great treachery as well even if they seemed kind on the surface. Gone forever were the days when I took people at face value. I tried that and saw where it got me. I wouldn’t be so trusting this time.
She took out her tools in a small towel and laid them on the bench and that’s when I freaked!
“Could we not do that right now?” I said, trying to sound pragmatic, not wanting to show just how panic-stricken I actually was inside. My relative composure completely went out the window when she pulled out the hammer. It was a smaller one than the one Dr. M. had used, and more of a rounded type, but nevertheless it was still a hammer. I was having a bad pain day and was in no mood for this. Every fiber of my being, every strand of my muscle was screaming (“No absolutely not!”). If I could have jumped over the back of my chair and run I would have at that moment. I backed away as far as my chair would let me, but she made no move to put it down. “I had a bad experience with a neurologist!” I blurted out in a last ditch effort to get her to back off.
“I’m going to do it on me; not directly on you” she said placing her thumb between me and the hammer. I was shaking my head no knowing that still didn’t change anything. Then seeing there was no escape I braced myself. Her thumb was little buffer for the impact and although it wasn’t near as hard as what I’d had in December it didn’t exactly tickle.
The primal self came back and took over. I felt like a trapped animal, drawing up and cringing at each blow as though I was going to come out of my skin. It seemed as though she was trying to hurry it up but it was as though I left my body for fragments of seconds throughout although on one level I was aware of my body struggling. I’m not exactly sure where my consciousness was but it seemed as though it was receded tucked as far away inside as possible.
It seemed as though every nerve and neuron was on overload.
Once she finished with the hammer she went about putting her hand under at the back of each knee and jerking up sharply and something similar with my arms. This elicited severe spasticity in all 4 of my limbs, and eventually the back-bend arching movements I sometimes have.
After that and pushing and pulling on various muscles she commented after she went back to her seat across the room that she thought it wasn’t so much weakness but spasticity that is the problem. She recommended physical therapy “to relax the muscles” and said she wasn’t suggesting regular types of exercises, but stretching. When I said that massage also helps she said that’s because it relaxes the muscles “and the mind”. I made a mental note that she put that in and hoped that she wasn’t using that as a sneaky way to make it all in my head as Dr.M. (AKA The Dark Man) had said.
Then she told me it’s possible that my Sarcoidosis could be causing this and the Dysautonomia if it has reached certain parts of the brain or nerves. She also said that it can affect nerves in the hip. I have been having pain in that area, especially the left hip and gluteus muscle. She seemed to be leaning strongly on the hypothesis that it’s my Sarcoidosis in brain and/or hip nerves and didn’t think the spinal findings and TMJ would be interfering with nerve impulses.
Then her demeanor turned kind of intense. “What are you taking for your Sarcoidosis now?”
“Benicar, off-label every 4 hours; the Marshall Protocol” I replied.
“You realize the medication is not working” she said rhetorically. “Have you been on Prednisone?”
“And what was the result?’ she asked.
“It wasn’t good. Extreme rage. I can’t risk that” I replied.
“If we do find that your Sarcoidosis is active and affecting the brain you really need to think about going on immunosuppressants”.
By immunosuppressants the dreaded heavy-duty disease-modifying agents like Enbrel and Remicaid were what she was referring to. Her eyes seemed to drill into mine. Time slowed to a standstill. I fought back tears and told her how I’d outlived many people I’d come to know in the Sarcoidosis patient community because I’d not taken that route. I saw too many people end up with complications that were as bad or worse than the disease, some ending up requiring transplants and pacemakers because of the damage done to their organs, only to die a horrible death. These people died way too young.
I told her I was afraid that after the 10 years I had to go off the Marshall Protocol it might have been too late for it to be effective when I went back on it and maybe that’s why it isn’t working anymore.
“If it’s affected the brain on this level then probably so. We need to do a gallium scan to find out, and I want to look at your MRI film from Piedmont.”
“OK, but they didn’t see anything. I’ve heard it doesn’t always show up in imaging anyway.”
“Yes, but it doesn’t always just show up and say “See, here I am.” It occurred to me that this was the first time I detected her accent.”If it turns out” she continued, “that it is your Sarcoidosis, if the gallium scan lights up anything we won’t need to do more tests, but if not we will need to. If it is your Sarcoidosis then you really really need to go on immunosuppressants.”
I could no longer keep eye contact. This was becoming too much and I fell silent, just waiting for it to be over. She was still looking at me when I glanced back. “Okaaaaaay???”
The words wouldn’t come out. I was in total lockdown for what seemed like an eternity but was probably not more than about a minute in actual time. It was not OK at all.
I think she repeated it about 3 or 4 times. The pressure was like a thousand pound weight. It was the same feeling I had when the nurse practitioner in Gastroenterology kept pushing me to have a colonoscopy when I can’t withstand the stuff you drink and its effects because of my Dysautonomia. You just know you can’t do something and you find yourself unable to speak.
I knew then that beyond these tests it was not going to work.
This was further confirmed by the fact that she is 9 months pregnant and going on maternity leave until May starting next week, that she is somewhat lackadaisical about responding to her patients on the patient portal, and that sometimes a nurse practitioner or another doctor sees her patients.
She didn’t seem like she was exactly going out of her way to win me over, and damn it, after what I’ve been through any neurologist worth their salt better be!
I’m all for accommodation in the workplace for women who want to have children, but quite honestly I don’t need someone who is distracted and divided right now, whose head is not in the game. I need someone who has the time to devote because what I’m dealing with medically requires it in order to do the job right. I also need a neurologist who truly gives a damn and respects my boundaries. I wish I could see Dr. W. She did, but it seems like I’m caught in a terrible catch 22; those doctors I feel comfortable with for one reason or another can’t or won’t do it, and I’m left with the ones who don’t get it and don’t care to.
When I got back up to the front desk the man who was dealing with release forms and orders handed me the physical therapy order. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at it more closely that I realized it didn’t reflect the mere stretching she’d told me verbally she was recommending. The interventions said “Gait training, Functional movement”, and “Exercise” (not specifying stretching). I’m tired, and I don’t just mean this week, this month, or this year, but existentially tired, and I need rest. Rest and true, genuine kindness.