Saturday, October 08, 2011

Is There a Doctor in the House?

I do not like to go to the doctor.

Yet I spend a significant amount of time seeing doctors. I have a lot of health issues.
These issues include:
  • obesity
  • thyroid problems
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • high triglycerides
  • asthma

I am working diligently on the first item in hopes of alleviating some of the others (I'm down 18 pounds!). And yet I keep running into walls.

My general practitioner harps on cholesterol-lowering medicines even though I have told her repeatedly I am not going to take them. Yes, the numbers are high but not, to my mind, significantly so. A decade ago, before they decided they wanted to sell more drugs, I would have been borderline high. I am already taking blood pressure and thyroid medicines. I am not adding another.

You see, I don't trust the health care we have now. It's all about money, not healing. Let's face it. The pharmaceutical industry makes its money masking symptoms, not affecting cures. Do you really think there will be a cure for cancer so long as there is money to be made off of it? Not in my life time. As long as my health is a commodity that someone can constantly try to use to bilk money off of me, I will not ever trust a health care provider. And that includes "alternative care" providers, many of whom I am sure are genuinely interested in caring for me, provided I have the money to pay them.

Yes, I know, they have bills to pay, too. But personally I think $100 for an hour's worth of whatever, be that an acupuncture sticking, a Reiki healing session, or a massage, is a bit much. You can offer the care without gouging people. I guess it costs what it costs, though.

Anyway, the asthma is a new issue for me. I went in July to see if I had a fish allergy and came out with a serious asthma diagnosis and two steroid inhalers, a steroid nasal inhaler, and a nasal antihistamine. I remember walking out there thinking, what just happened here?

Oh, it was obvious from the tests that I had a problem. The breathing tests were quite conclusive. I don't breathe well. That chest pain I keep experiencing is actually asthma - why wasn't I using my rescue inhaler? the doctor wanted to know.

Nobody ever told me when to use it.

That's right. About 20 years a doctor said, "You have asthma," and told me to carry around Primatene Mist, which was available over the counter. I dutifully bought some, but I didn't know when I was supposed to use it.

"When you can't breathe," someone said.

Well, that was pretty much all the time for me, and I was so used to it I didn't realize it was an issue. Those coughing spasms? Asthma. Tight chest and nearly choking after crying? Asthma. Coughing after laughter? Asthma. Really bad chest pains that sent me to hospital thinking I was having a heart attack? Asthma.

And I didn't know.

I'm 48 years old. I have seen a potful of doctors. I have seen general practitioners and specialists, and emergency room doctors.

Why didn't somebody say something?

Every time I have switched general practitioners or gone to a specialist, I have listed an emergency inhaler as one of my medications. For 20 years! "But I don't use it," I would say. And they never commented. They just gave me a prescription for another one.

When I went to the ER in 2009 with chest pains and difficulty breathing, why didn't somebody test me for asthma then? Suggest I use my emergency inhaler? Because they earned more money running me on the treadmill and through their little stress test, that's why.

I thought this way of breathing, this frustrating and unhealthy feeling, was normal. It was normal, for me. You might be wondering why I didn't look it up. Well, because nobody mentioned it as a possible source of some of my problems. Never.

This pretty much proves something I've been saying for a few years now.

This is the Roanoke area. Small city. Small potatoes. Do you really think that the "A" list doctors are going to come to a city of 100,000 to practice medicine? No. We get those physicians who pass by the seat of their pants. The ones who graduate from some medical college in Aruba that exists in a rundown motel room. The ones who speak English with accents so heavy that I can't understand a thing they say. This is second-rate health care here. There are no "A" list doctors in Roanoke. There probably aren't even any in Virginia. Well, maybe at UVA.

According to a headline about an athlete with asthma in today's paper, 1 out of every 12 people has asthma. You'd think someone would think to mention it to me, and suggest I see a specialist.

So anyway, in July, I came home with asthma controller medications.

And I used them.

Six weeks later, in mid-August, I tested great at the asthma doctor's office. Nearly 100 percent lung capacity. I was feeling pretty good, too. Things that used to bother me and make me gasp for air were more tolerable (sensitivities is a big thing for asthma sufferers and I didn't know that, either). I was walking on the treadmill more.

And then I started having side affects. Really bad, life-altering, possibly life-threatening, side affects.

The asthma doctor, of course, said the medications couldn't be causing the symptoms I was experiencing. These aren't normal side effects for this medication.

Nevertheless, he cut back on my asthma medication, just a tiny bit, and sent me home with other medication for the side effects.

And after a week on the side-effect medication, I felt a little better, for about three days.

Then the side affects overrode the helpful medication and I was right back where I started. I went back to the doctor Thursday and basically he threw up his hands. He patted me on the head and said he was sorry, but he didn't know what else he could do for me. He didn't change my asthma medication anymore, either.

I knew what to do.

I stopped taking my asthma medication. I didn't ask the doctor because what was the point? He would say I should take it.

That was 48 hours ago. The side affects are getting better. I feel more hopeful about that than I have in two weeks.

However, my breathing quickly deteriorated. It has moved back to where it was before the steroid asthma inhalers, back to a tightness in the chest. It should be okay, it is what I lived with for many years.

But I have felt what it feels like to feel better.

I wish I didn't know.


  1. I totally agree with you on the condition of our health care providers these days. Thankfully we have the Internet where I do a lot of my own research on medical issues because you're absolutely right about the doctors masking the symptoms and not getting down to the CAUSE of the illness.

    I'm also a firm believer that a lot of our health issues today stem from the foods that we eat. The government has allowed chemicals to be added to our foods in the name of preserving them but our bodies were not designed to digest these chemicals. This foreign matter creates a toxic build up within our bodies that results in various illnesses in people. Eat clean, feel better!

    I truly hope you can get to the bottom of your asthma and that you can find a doctor that you like and can trust!

  2. I have also developed asthma due to my allergies. Let me just say, it sucks. But it doesn't go away and it's important to keep it under control to avoid progression. There are different types of inhalers so be a little more assertive with your doctor if necessary. Some inhalers are the Advair type, some the Pulmicort or Symbicort type, and then there is Asthmanex and the like. They treat asthma in different ways and have different side effects. Also, Singulair is used for allergies and asthma. Advocate for your health, but don't avoid treating asthma because you don't want it to advance. I would imagine there are better doctors closer to DC. It might be worth the drive just once.

  3. I understand your plight with doctors and I'm sorry your health is suffering for it. Asthma is serious.
    It might be worth fighting for the right meds.
    Our latest rounds with a Roanoke Dr. had one saying, "There's nothing wrong with you, you're perfectly healthy." Then racking up $3000 in tests! Guess he's trying to keep the hospital running on our dime.

  4. GC - I agree with you on the food issue. I have a difficult time with that because I have a strong sweet tooth. It is something I working hard on controlling.

    Denise, you're right. The thing is finding a doctor. It's hard enough to get a referral around here. I will work on this, though, and see what I can figure out.

    Lenora, you're right, those tests are not always worthwhile. How odd to do the tests after being told you were fine!

  5. That's horrible. When I was diagnosed last year or so, my insurance REQUIRED that I go through an asthma education program with a nurse. Steroid tx is mainstream but there ar other approaches. I can usually get buy on Singulair alone. When the asthma starts to act up, then I use my steroid inhaler. Also, I have trouble with exercising, so I was told to use my emergency (albuterol) inhaler 15 minutes before and that has been helpful. The important thing about asthma is to keep it under control because the longer it goes out of control, it takes extra much time to get it back under control.

  6. I thank God UVA had such a great doctor for my daughter's medical condition. Absolutely not one Roanoke doctor had a clue how to treat her. Luckily, her pediatrician was honest with me when she said, "If she was my daughter I'd bring her to Charlottesville." Trust me...It's worth the trip. Don't settle for second rate care...breathing is too important!

  7. You are right about many doctors, but please don't give up and stop pursuing this because there are some doctors out there who will go the extra mile and might be of help.

    You are on the right track by managing what you can on your own (kudos on the weight loss!) but I do hope you keep looking for the respiratory specialist who can help you get this under control!

  8. I hear you! This is an all too typical story and vicious cycle.


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