Why are more and more people turning to alternative medicine? I ask myself that question as I leave the office of an endocrinologist whom I have been waiting to see for over two months. This is the same doctor’s office who told me when I called a month after sending a referral, that the doctor had not even seen it yet, much less evaluated my chart. I shouldn’t have been surprised by how frustrated and disappointed I became after leaving the office. This has been my experience my entire adult life when it comes to doctors and western/modern medicine and what we call a health care system.
When I was eighteen, I went to a doctor because I was having a lot of anxiety related to graduating from a small school and going to huge state university where I would know no one. I have been shy my whole life, but it had gotten to a point where I couldn’t make myself go up to a stranger at a registration table and tell them my name. It was crippling and I didn’t know what else I could do. The doctor told me I was depressed and needed to be on medicine for the rest of my life, just like if I was a diabetic who needed insulin to live. I believed him! I went on to take that medication for thirteen years, even though I would ask if it was a good idea to try and stop taking it. Every time I said I felt good and I didn’t think I needed to be on depression medicine, they would tell me that means that it is working and you don’t need to stop.
Looking back now, I know that the problem when I was eighteen was that I had low self-esteem and didn’t know how to cope with that. I was a normal teenager undergoing the normal pressures of growing up. As an adult I have found many coping skills, centered around self-examination, that help me to get past any emotional barriers or negative thoughts I have. It didn’t occur to this doctor that maybe I could use some counseling, instead of starting with “evening me out” with pharmaceuticals. I didn’t know any better, and my mom didn’t know any better, because we are told this is what you do.
I decided to quit listening to doctors who see me for ten minutes and make judgments and decisions that will affect my well being every day until the next time they require I come in for an unnecessary visit. They told me I needed the medicine every day for my whole life, but still made me come in twice a year so they could write my prescriptions. “What brings you in today?” I need you to allow me to purchase the medicine that you claim I can’t live without. How messed up is that?
I weaned myself off of my Zoloft over the course of a month. Then I started vomiting. Every day. Every morning I would wake up and be overwhelmed with nausea and run to the bathroom. Then I started having these intense pains in my side on December 29. I left work and went to urgent care, who did x-rays and literally told me I was full of sh*t. They said to drink some magnesium citrate and I would be fine, but if not I should go to the emergency room to be evaluated for appendicitis. I decided to see if I could wait until the first of the year to see a doctor so that any massive expense I would incur by going to an ER would at least go toward my deductible for year. Does that make sense to you? Waiting to get care because a couple of days make a difference on how much money you’ll owe?
I did not end up going to the emergency room because the pain eventually subsided. So they got right that part about me being full of it. But the vomiting continued. I went to see my primary care physician who ordered a CAT scan. It cost me over 1,000 dollars out of my pocket for that test which showed no abnormalities. My mother then suggested I see her gastroenterologist because she was very pleased with him and knew that I was upset with the way I was being treated. He was a super nice man who seemed to want to help me. All that I got was more frustration and so many more bills.
He ordered an upper GI scope which revealed no abnormalities other than a small hernia in my esophagus that was a result of all the vomiting. He ordered a gastric emptying study which revealed no abnormalities. So he started prescribing medicine. “This one will speed up your stomach, lets see if that is the problem.” More vomiting and even less pleasant symptoms begin. “Let’s try this medicine, its an antacid”. Some symptoms stop, vomiting remains. “We are going to try these steroids and if that helps you have to see another doctor.” WHAT THE WHAT?! The steroids helped. The vomiting stopped. And I got punted off to the next guy.
All those attempts to find out what was causing my daily misery took weeks and weeks. Then the referral was sent to the endocrinologist and I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. So I endured the vomiting for a month before I couldn’t stand it anymore. I don’t know how many phone calls I made before I got to the answer that the doctor didn’t even know I existed yet. Then I get to the doctor’s office and was told I wasn’t covered by my insurance and I had to pay out of pocket. I saw red, y’all.
On top of being given the run around by these doctors, I was laid off from my job. I had met my deductible because of all the tests and I was really upset by the fact that I was going to lose my insurance after paying all of that money out of pocket. I was able to continue my coverage for twice what I was paying through COBRA. How is that even logical? I lose my job so I have to pay twice as much as I was when I had money coming in. Its maddening. So after making two payments, they tell me at the office that I am not covered. I could have cried, but I called the benefits administrator and they told me that Blue Cross just had not updated my status yet. “Go ahead and pay full price out of pocket and your insurance will reimburse you.” Isn’t that fantastic? Then I actually see the doctor, who could not give less of a f*ck what is going on with me if he tried. He told me I didn’t display certain symptoms of adrenal deficiency, which is his first guess at what is wrong. So he ordered more of the same blood work that revealed a low level of a hormone called cortisol in order to determine if I need this other, more detailed cortisol test.
Life handed me a win and I got a new job. I missed many hours at my previous job because of all these visits and tests. I hope and pray that the same thing doesn’t happen at my new job, where I need to show up and show that I am dependable. I never needed to use anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications during the time I was without a job, even though I was having an extremely tough time. We as humans are capable of handling a lot more than we think we can.
I say all of that to say that something needs to change. We need to be able to stay healthy and well without putting synthetic medicines in our body that do terrible things to us and have extreme side effects. We get stuck in a position where we are dependent on these doctors to keep us healthy and we need to find another way. There is an alternative.