Picture of doctor saying lots of nonsense

Shit Doctors Say

Doctors can say the most awful things to chronic pain patients.

In 2009 I started to have severe pain, weakness, and fatigue. I felt like I’d been run over by a truck. One of the first doctors I saw was an infectious disease specialist who tested me for Lyme disease. The test had the required positive bands for a new infection but she decided the result wasn’t significant. I was clueless about what the test meant, and continued to see specialist after specialist, trying to figure out what was wrong. I didn’t make it to a Lyme-literate doctor until the end of 2013.

I think I saw about 40 doctors in total, mostly rheumatologists, pain management specialists, and psychiatrists.

Why psychiatrists? Chronic pain patients are often referred to psychiatrists when MDs can’t be bothered to figure out what’s really going on.

And despite their knowledge of emotions, psychiatrists say some of the most horrible things.

Here are some of the worst and strangest things I heard:

1) Psychiatrist, female:

Psychiatrist tells me I dress badly

I called this doctor “psychiatrist Barbie” because of her obvious familiarity with plastic surgery, pricey-looking highlights, designer suits, and four-inch heels. She had so much Botox her forehead didn’t move at ALL, and her lips were suspiciously puffy.

Her comment was just bizarre. Is there such a thing as “chronic illness dress-for-success”?! A doctor’s appointment is not a job interview, right?

At the time, I was in so much pain it was an achievement to get dressed at all, and I had to wear sneakers because my back hurt so much. And in general, I think people dress casually to go to the doctor, unless they’re coming from work and they work in, say, a white-shoe law firm.

2) “You radiate female energy. You’re all woman.” — Psychiatrist, male, supposed “pain specialist.” OK, I was wearing the exact same jeans and sneakers as with doctor No. 1, but she said I was too frumpy to be taken seriously and he sounded like he was hitting on me. Ugh. Also, five minutes into the appointment, he promised to help me break my addiction to opiate painkillers. The problem? I don’t take opiate painkillers. I’ve used them after surgeries, but they mess with my stomach. He just didn’t read my chart.

3) “You’re using your boyfriend as a crutch so you can act like a cripple.” — This was also the “pain psychiatrist” from No. 2., a real winner. My boyfriend has helped with cooking, grocery shopping, and household tasks since I became ill. He is a naturally helpful person and I feel lucky he lives with me; it isn’t about “using” anyone. And of course this doctor, despite having lots of disabled patients, had to use the ableist slur “a cripple.” Hello, disability rights awareness?

4) The nose-picking psychiatrist:

Doctor picks nose and asks me how many milligrams I want

After removing his finger from the depths of his nostril, he handed me the prescription he had been writing. I used my elbow to drag it into my purse so I wouldn’t have to touch it.

I should mention that he was in Best Doctors in New YorkNever trust Best Doctors in New York.

5) Pain management specialist, male:

Doctor tells me people on disability have more pain and so he can't write me a disability letter

Another one from Best Doctors in New York.

6) “I do 500 exercises a day to stay out of pain.” — Pain management specialist, female. Wow, only 500? That sounds realistic.

7) “Everything looks just beautiful down there!” — Gynecologist, male. In this case, there was a language barrier, and I really wanted to believe that by “beautiful” he meant “without severe growths” or something similar. And maybe he did. But I later learned that another patient sued him for sexual harassment.

8) Psychiatrist, male:

Doctor tells me I have pain because I haven't dealt with my issues

Correct, doctor, but the issues I hadn’t dealt with were undiagnosed Lyme and worsening thyroid disease.

9) “You need to forget about your pain and get on with life.” — Pain management doctor, male. Uh, how to do that, exactly?

10) “I’m not going to massage your hand. I don’t do hand massages. I want to last in this profession.” — Occupational therapist and certified hand therapist. I was seeing her for my carpal tunnel and other repetitive strain injuries. The whole idea of going to a hand therapist is to get massages to relieve your pain (also to get rehab exercises, but the therapist should use pain-relief techniques in conjunction with exercises). Maybe this woman didn’t get the memo, because she only gave exercises. She wanted to keep from getting repetitive strain injury herself as a result of giving massages; this does happen to therapists. Still, she was protecting herself at the expense of her patients.

11) Rheumatologist, female:

Doctor tells me my test are normal and my mind is creating my pain

She was the one who referred me to the “pain psychiatrist” in No. 2 and No. 3. She was in Best Doctors in New York too, of course. I used to have two cats, and eventually I ripped up Best Doctors in New York and used it to line the litter box.

12) “Americans are very spoiled.” — Acupuncturist, female. True in many cases, but do I need to hear it when I’m laying on a table with needles all over my body? Granted, the woman grew up in Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution, but there’s a time and place for every comment.

13) “You have a few little positives on the Western blot, but I don’t think it means anything.” — the famous infectious diseases doctor. I wrote about this in my Lyme disease story. The “few little positives” were the 39kda and 41kda bands, which are important bands for diagnosing Lyme on the “new infection” part of the test. But the doctor didn’t even give me the few weeks of antibiotics that the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) claims are enough to cure Lyme (despite tons of research showing the Lyme bacteria can persist in the body).

14) “Wow! You blew up like the Michelin man!” — Endocrinologist, male. This actually happened before I got Lyme. The doctor took me off thyroid medicine and I gained 60 pounds. It took me years to lose those pounds, even when I was back on the right dose. I think this story might need its own post.

If you have a doctor comment you want to vent about (and so many of us have gotten awful remarks), please share in the comments section (unless sharing the experience will retraumatize you, which I totally get!). I’ve had a while to process all these experiences, so writing about them (and especially making unflattering drawings of doctors) is therapeutic for me. I think the therapeutic power of sarcasm is underrated.

In the meantime, I wish everyone only pleasant, helpful medical encounters!

Published by

Miss Diagnoses

Hi! I'm Vicki. My blog is called "Miss Diagnoses" because I have too many diagnoses and because my Lyme disease was misdiagnosed for many years. In addition to being a professional patient, I'm a compulsive reader and doodler. Sadly, my writing and drawing are limited by repetitive strain injury and neuropathy; I use assistive technology, but I can't post as often as I'd like. I'm also an allergic, chemically sensitive shopaholic, always on the hunt for less toxic beauty products. You can find me on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook. Twitter: @miss_diagnoses Pinterest and Facebook: @MissDiagnoses

58 thoughts on “Shit Doctors Say

  1. Well, first of all, if there is something wrong with wearing sneakers, then I am in serious trouble. Not giving up my sneakers. You have certainly had a colorful array of doctors who are clearly brilliant with excellent bedside manner (hey, you are right, sarcasm IS therapeutic!). The first doctor I asked to test my thyroid put me on the pill and said “we will cross our fingers”. That didn’t work so well. The second doctor I asked sent me my test results with a note that told me my numbers were out of range and she would investigate what that meant and call me. I never heard from her again but I do still have her note. Love this post and looking forward to you expanding on #14. #14 sounds like a doozy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ugh! “We will cross our fingers” is not a treatment plan! As for the second doctor, the fact that she needed to look up what the results meant is quite scary! Did you ever hear this joke: Q: “What do you call someone who graduated last in his or her medical school class?
      A: Doctor.” Also I can’t believe she didn’t get back to you … ugh. You have had quite the odyssey yourself! Ha, #14 is a doozy … for the topic of thyroid disease and weight I might need a whole separate blog.

      Like

    1. It is the wonder of the American medical system! I think a lot of doctors go into medicine for the money, I really do. I did get a lot of drawing practice while doing this post. I really struggle with drawing wrinkles in fabric!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think that kind of thing is exclusive to America. The NHS in Britain is a wonderful system but some of the doctors are still pretty awful. And don’t get me started on Irish GPs or I might never stop ranting. 🙂
        And may I just add a “Doh!” It had never occurred to me that you had done all those fabulous drawings; they’re great. I’ll be a bit more switched on in future!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ugh! Yes, I have heard similar things about the NHS, and sorry about Irish GPs. I wonder if there is a country with mostly fabulous doctors? France? I don’t know. Thanks you for the compliment about my cartoons! I feel like I improve a little with each post. I’ve always been a compulsive doodler, but I struggle with shading. I hope to get one of those drawing tablets!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I think they’re great. Drawing figures and faces is really difficult and I can’t see anything wrong with your shading. I look forward to seeing how you get on with the tablet. It’ll probably take you a little while to get used to the hand-eye coordination thing but once you get past that you’ll probably find it’s easier than drawing on your iPad. The surface is less slippery, more like drawing on paper. Have fun! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow! This is beautifuly written. Just the right touch of sarcasm. I am so sorry you had to go through this with all the different PH.D’s and M.D.’s. I want to become a psychologist but I hope I never become like one of them. If you are still seeing a psychologist try one that practices mindfulness, they might be more understanding and less judgmental. Don’t stop sharing, you definitely touched my heart with this story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I think you would make an excellent psychologist! Yeah, I haven’t seen a therapist in a while because my insurance changed (with disability you get Medicare), and a lot of the better psychologists don’t take Medicare. Also, I am searching for a psychologist who really understands chronic illness.

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    1. Ha! I know! I don’t know what happened to that Hippocratic Oath! Maybe these people didn’t show up that day? The nose-picking guy was probably picking his nose. The thing is, he knew I saw, and he didn’t care!

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  3. “Laura Hillenbrand — who went on to write the bestsellers “Seabiscuit” and “Unbroken” — came down with the illness at age 20 and, finding herself unable to read, speak coherently or stand up, took a leave from college. Her internist sent her to a psychiatrist, told her the symptoms were those of puberty and wrote in her chart, “Couldn’t handle school. Dropped out.”

    These disputes are heartbreaking when the needs of CFS patients are so great. Even the high-quality treatment I got from Klimas helped me only slightly. A year after I saw her, I heard from some patients who had significantly recovered from CFS through assiduously avoiding exposure to mold and other environmental contaminants. Although I considered the theory wacky, I was desperate enough to experiment. And for me, it worked. Two years later, I can go running, write articles and travel with my new husband. Every time I do, it feels like a miracle.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/what-is-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-and-why-arent-we-doing-more-to-treat-the-illness/2014/10/06/4cfff312-d458-11e3-8a78-8fe50322a72c_story.html

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, thank you, Donna! Yes, it took several years, but I graduated from sneakers to flat shoes with a custom orthotic. Actually, if you ever want orthotics, the podiatrist I see makes fantastic ones; they’re very thin and can turn a flat ankle boot into super-supportive footwear. But I suppose now that psychiatrist would criticize me for wearing flats, LOL. Maybe she thinks everyone should come to appointments in an Armani suit and heels? Another clueless rich person. Oh well.

      Like

  4. Linda, that was an amazing article about Laura Hillenbrand! It’s crazy how much patients go through! I know a lot of ME/CFS is caused by Lyme, MCS, and mold … also mycoplasma fermentans, I believe. I think the last causes Gulf War Syndrome. But women with chronic pain are definitely shipped off to psychiatrists way too often. And the psychiatrists say clueless things like they said to her in the article. “Puberty.” Yeah, right.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Can’t stop laughing!!
    My my. Oh the things those doctors say.
    AI could fill a Barlett’s style collection of mind blowing quotes with the shit i’ve heard. It seems like every visit is going to bring with it some blind-siding comment that i’ll leave with in a state of shock and humiliation.
    I’d love a ‘Part II’ continuation.
    Great cartoons as usual!

    A++ Great Ebay sufferer. Would read again.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh.my.god! Wow. Those are some seriously awful things to have heard. I have had a couple of experiences (creepy gynaecologist, check) especially from physiotherapists suggesting it’s emotional or based on stress. It’s so incredibly frustrating. Thank god for the doctors who are sympathetic and understanding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, really, how many of us have gotten variations of “it’s all in your head”? I have gotten a few comments from physical therapists as well. Seriously, who would want to make this shit up? And ugh to creepy gynos! I am so happy I have better doctors and physical therapists now. It takes so long to find even half-decent ones.

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  7. Love this! Thank you. I have a gorgeous green sweater set that I usually wear with white jeans. My outfit looks put together, but I know that color of green makes me look like I’m three short breaths away from a casket. 🙂 “Color Me Hashimoto’s”.

    Worst comment by an endo. “We should illegalize naturopaths. The sell snake oil and get people spun up about gluten and adrenal fatigue. Your labs are better than mine, I don’t know why you are here.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. All so painfully true! I really look forward to your posts – they always strike the right balance of dark humor and painful insight. I’m gonna call it here; your words and drawings are headed towards a book. Because I would totally read that!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Oh my goodness, I love this post. (Not that it happened to you, just the way you’ve written about it!)

    I haven’t got as many examples as you as I decided the best course of action was to get off the Numpty Merry Go Round and take matters into my own hands.

    My favourite/worst comment was from a GP. I’d explained that I’d been bedridden for 3 months at this point with a mystery illness that no one could figure out. I explained that I was having trouble getting to the bathroom, washing, and lifting food into my mouth. He wasn’t taking me seriously so I said “I just want to go back to work…..” He looked shocked and said “You’re not working at the moment?!” Er, no, as I said, I’m bedridden. What can I work do you think I do?!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh man, that is a RIDICULOUS comment! You have to wonder if they’re idiots or just not even paying attention. Sometimes I think they’re just sitting there collecting a paycheck, dreaming about sailing or playing golf or whatever they do at the country club during weekends.
    There were a few comments I left out to make the post shorter. One was, “Do you exercise?” This was after I had just explained how my whole body hurt. :-/

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “That’s a very fashionable illness in females your age”
    Whilst discussing hypoglycemia ( low blood sugar) I explained I’ve recently had pancreatitis
    “Fibro’s the in thing recently”
    Obviously about fibromyalgia …. I’ve written a whole post relating to fashionable illnesses

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    1. I just read your post on “fashionable illnesses” and started following you on Twitter. Great post, but ugh, that “fashionable” comment truly sucks. “Oh, fibro is the in thing” … please. Yes, burning nerve pain is all the rage nowadays. Do you have any integrative/functional doctors or naturopaths near you? One of those might help you get to the root cause of the fibro (instead of bring dismissive and useless).

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  12. I’ve got some good ones:
    I asked about babesia, bc it fit my symptoms infectious disease doctors response ” we don’t believe in that”
    Another told me ” you need to stop focusing on your health so much” I’m sorry I’ve felt like I’m dying for the last three months what would u like me to focus on?
    Another when I was trying to tell her how lyme is clinically diagnosed bc the tests are so inaccurate said ” well when you tell someone who is anxious that they have an illness, they tend to never get better” I have NEVER been anxious and was completely healthy 29 year old until this June when I got bit by a tick. Ugh yeah bc being this ill and in pain is so much fun…..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ugh, IDSA docs are the worst! Seriously, the doctor “didn’t believe in” babesia? It is a known parasite you can see under a microscope, hello? The horrible IDSA doc I saw even tested me for that—only one strain, babesia microti, but it was better than no test at all. I also had a bunch of docs telling me not to pay so much attention to my health, and yes, what are we supposed to pay attention to if we feel like crap and want to feel better? I think women get the “anxiety” bullshit more often than men do. This whole Lyme denial bullshit must stop. So sorry you went through that and hope you are getting better care now.

      Like

  13. Doctor’s can be incredibly ignorant. What I also find disconcerting is the number of doctors who look like they are death’s door themselves. Of course, they could still have a fantastically knowledgeable brain but it is hard to trust someone who doesn’t look the part. I once saw a doctor who sat across from me guzzling coffee from multiple mugs, shaking oddly and who clearly was a chain-smoker and they were supposedly ‘holistic.’ I wanted a refund. What also irks me is that fact that doctors receive eight hours of nutrition education in med school. Seriously!!!?! That just blows my mind and creates a dynamic where you are often more educated than your doctor. I’ve had doctors recommend eating low-fat yogurt for calcium (which doesn’t even work- pasteurized dairy can contribute to osteoporosis) even after I’ve told them I have a severe dairy allergy. I’ve learned to really carefully research doctors and try to find ones who practice integrative medicine which has led to more positive experiences. It’s true that you really have to be your own doctor for the most part though. I hope some of those doctors somehow find your blog and see your wonderful depictions of them 😉

    Like

    1. Only eight hours of nutrition in med school? Boy, that explains a lot. I have a severe dairy allergy too, and I can’t believe that doctor recommended yogurt to you! Hello, yogurt is dairy. Ugh. Yeah, I don’t know as much as I’d like yet about nutrition but have been reading a lot. I have sort of a mishmash of integrative and conventional docs right now, and I don’t even bother asking the Western docs for nutritional advice. I did run across an integrative doctor who didn’t know that Bragg’s liquid aminos had soy in it. It says “made from non-GMO soybeans” on the bottle. LOL. I don’t see her anymore, but she did recommend my LLMD, who knows a lot about nutrition and detox. Thanks for the compliment about my drawings! 🙂

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  14. Where do I even begin? I’ll just stick with the Lyme, and skip past the awful years before my PCOS/hypothyroidism diagnoses:

    (After pouring out my anguished history and asking for his expert opinion, which I had driven hours to hear after waiting months for an appointment…): “I see your occupation is professional baby making machine?” –highly rated rheumatologist. No, I did not write that on the intake form. Yes, I have several children, but that had nothing to do with my swollen joints, TIAs, peripheral neuropathy, shooting pains, sore feet, cognitive dysfunction, rashes and “bruises” and strange marks all over my body…

    “Don’t you ever make me read this much about you ever again. Do you have any idea how much paperwork I have to do every day?” –highly rated neurologist who chafed at my list of symptoms which was 4 years in the making

    “Oh, what do you see on your arm? Oh yes, those are your veins. They carry blood through your body. You can see them because you have white skin.” –top, female university hematologist, when I tried to point out the livedo reticularis rash my primary doctor had diagnosed and sent me for a consultation for…that was followed by, “I see you have many children. You’re soooo busy. I don’t think you need to see a hematologist, sweetie.”

    “It’s probably just migraines” –cardiologist who never found a cause for my heart palpitations

    “The best thing you can do for yourself is lose some weight” –orthopedist who saw me when I had an enormous bullseye rash on my bright red, swollen knee, as well as a bright red, bumpy rash all over my body

    “The most I can do for you IF the test is CDC positive is a month of antibiotics, which, if your symptoms are really all due to Lyme you’ve had for four years, aren’t going to do anything for you. That’s best case scenario.” –infectious disease doctor who then said my test was negative even though it was, in fact, CDC positive, and showed several other abnormalities, like elevated EBV antibodies, elevated rheumatoid arthritis antibodies, low CD57, elevated CRP, etc etc

    Those are just the highlights. I couldgo on and on.

    Like

    1. Oh my God, I’m getting angry just reading what these people said to you. Ugh! The “baby-making machine” comment is sickening and I won’t even address the condescending hematologist … I’m also pale, and I think we know the difference between our veins and a rash! And as for the orthopedist … what a jerk! And the neurologist who was angry about paperwork makes me super-angry! What does he think he’s getting paid for, anyway? To make rude remarks? I do have to say I’m surprised that the ID doctor came right out and admitted that a month of antibiotics was useless. I hope you’re seeing some decent practitioners now. :-/

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  15. And then there are all the terrible things doctors – and nurses, and shrinks, and social workers – say to the mother of a chronically ill child with vague but persistent and debilitating symptoms. No, I did not make her sick. No, she is not “dependent,” she depends on me to buffer her from people like you. No, she is not able to just go to PE anyway. No, she is not a dusty, she’s in pain. No, she is not a head case, and neither am I. Well, the blood work may be normal, but that doesn’t mean she’s in good health. Oh I could go on and on, and it makes me sick. For fifteen years she’s been sick and just a few months ago we learned she’s got Lyme. Guess how many body systems those bacteria can migrate to in fifteen years? I want to kill every last incompetent doctor. But the worst is that they were incurious; not interested, even in the face of abject suffering on the part of the child. Second wrist might be how they did everything possible to undermine the mother’s dedication and confidence. I hate them.

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    1. I was just reading about parents of Lyme children in “Cure Unknown. It’s bad enough being sick yourself. It must be awful watching your child go through it and having doctors come up with stupid psychobabble explanations rather than addressing the problem!

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  16. I got “I think you believe you have a functional disorder” from a neurologist whose examination of me had me crying in pain. Even the nurse who was in the room at the time looked shocked.
    Turns out I had a badly slipped disc on L4/L5 which was badly compressing a nerve and required surgery to fix.

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  17. Perhaps not as bad as yours above, but my favourite quote so far (and so helpful too) has been: “You are hypothyroid. You should eat more salt.” I’ve also been called a hypochondriac (not in quite so many words, but definitely in the most expressly implied sort of way that an educated Brit knows how to convey) by a doctor who minutes later, upon my insistence for a more thorough examination, discovered a heart murmur and referred me to a cardiologist. Yet none of the doctors I’ve seen in the UK, even after I was finally officially diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, had bothered to order a thyroid scan. I guess they thought I could cure it with a handful of salt.

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  18. After many visits to my gp with worsening symptoms, I was rushed into hospital. After a year of being told to put my feet up (swollen ankles) and that I was stressed because I was a secondary school teacher (feeling exhausted all the time, breathlessness, heart flutters). It was actually a relief to be told I have heart failure. Needless to say I have changed my gp but will never forget how invalidated, hysterical and useless they made me feel. My cardio specialists have told me that if my symptoms had been diagnosed earlier, my condition would not have progressed so far and my life expectancy would be much greater. Facing a future where I won’t see my youngest child grow into an adult I know it is imperative that we recognise that asking for proper treatment and considered diagnosis is not pushy or demanding but sensible and proactive. Listen to your body, you know you best.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. LOL!!! While in an emergency room for overwhelming pain the doctor says to me, “Chronic Lyme disease is a made up illness for people who want pain medication, also, it says here in your chart that you have Fibromyalgia…well, that’s not real either. I’ve ordered you a psych consult.” BTW the Psych doctor was Lyme literate and ordered the meds and kept me on my antibiotics.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. My adult son had been in acute pain and we took him to the e.r. two or three times. Kidney stones showed up. Then at a urologist’s office who he had never been to before we hoped for help.
    This doctor says that the stones are so small they should pass and that they could not be causing him so much pain. I said something to him about going to a lot of doctors to get an answer. And this ding dong says to me “Well he should stop seeing doctors”. He was totally rude to my son and I. When I walked out of that appointment I cried like a baby.
    It turned out that yes those stones were small but they would not pass. We went to another urologist who said the same thing but he had to do surgery and the would not pass on their own.

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