I’ve read articles, heard friends stories, so I am well aware that the medical profession takes reports of pain from women less seriously. But I didn’t realize it had happened to me until well after it was over, and a friend still had to point it out.
Monday afternoon I developed a sharp stitch of pain in my right side. I had no reason to believe it was serious, so I went on with my relaxing day – it was a holiday after all! But after a while the pain was spreading up, taking in my lower rib cage and hurting when I would inhale deeply… so any time I needed to sigh at the game I was playing being dumb it hurt! In the early evening I was tired from hurting and went to go lay down – BAD IDEA. Laying down made my pain levels soar, and even being back up things still felt terrible and it was hard to breathe normally, so I got a ride to urgent care. By this time the pain had moved up into my shoulder as well – I couldn’t think of anything that could cause pain like this.
On the way to urgent care, the pain got a little less. I could communicate in full sentences, breathe a little better, and urgent care always takes some time to call you in. So by the time they did, the pain was at a manageable 4 on the 1-10 pain scale. This was unlucky for me, because they wanted to know where I was on the pain scale “right now” and when I tried to clarify that it had been MUCH WORSE there was not a flicker of acknowledgement. They kept asking about what I could have done to cause an injury to my shoulder – did I lift anything heavy or move something? Over and over, focusing on the shoulder, only doing a cursory touch to the pain areas, and still ignoring the side even though it hurt worse to the touch.
I got a pain injection (very clearly specified as non-narcotic) and a prescription, so they basically treated it as a strain that affected the lumbar area. They also emphasized the prescription was non-narcotic, like I was some one trying to score opioids. No what to do to follow up, just “this will work” and a complete dismissal of my point that there was likely no injury and that the pain was bad, worse when I tried to lay down.
A sleep-light and pain-heavy night followed. Groggy, I got dressed for work. Pain was back down to that magic 4 by the time I got ready to go, so I headed out to the office. Getting off the freeway, the spike started. Driving in, parking, up up up it goes! I tried to lift my laptop bag and find the pain is too severe, I can’t do it. So I go into my building and find a random coworker to find me the nearest ER covered by my insurance, Kaiser. With her help I locate it and get back on the road, all the while the spike seems to have peaked and is going back down, so much so that at my arrival to Kaiser I wonder if I’m being a big baby and should just go back to work, or drive back down to a hospital near home.
I compromise, and go to urgent care instead of the ER. I can breathe, with pain, but it at least feels possible by this time, I can talk to explain that the pain is in my side, extends up into my shoulder cuff, and is causing shortness of breath. So I get into the waiting room.
And as time goes by, the world becomes agony. By the time they call my name I’m shuddering with pain, breathing is a struggle, and walking is torture. They take me right to the room/cubby instead of the nurse’s station, because they don’t want to move me any more than they have to by looking at me. The doctor is there pretty quickly, and I stammer out my issues. They keep asking why the previous doctor treated it like a strain/injury – I honestly can’t say! I’m hyperventilating from the pain, so they’re doing everything they can to get me comfortable while still examining me.
One episode of House, MD later (It’s gallstones, we can’t find the patient but it’s not gallstones, we found her and completed a cat scan, we lost her in the system again and we aren’t doing the chest x-ray, oh hey it’s an infected mass on the liver and pneumonia we need to admit her, nah just pneumonia, wait, is that a blood clot?) and sometime the next late morning we get a very scary, and possibly fatal, diagnosis. That’s right, by overlooking my pain reports, that doctor Monday night could have killed me if I tried to follow his advice instead of visiting again.
I’m on the way to recovery now, after a minor procedure and a very scary time since they found the clots. I’m finally home and on the meds I need, with follow ups scheduled and all is well. For all I know the doctor Monday was tired, dismisses everyone’s pain, or he heard shoulder and never listened past that – but it’s also very possible that it was because I am female that he felt I was overreacting to the current pain levels and wanted me to go home and get over it. That is terrifying to me.