You’re Not Really Disabled

There’s been a trend in my recent writing topics, that I can only define as WTF. I’m not being very eloquent about it, but there it is. WTF stretches a broad range of experiences that I’ve discussed both in my blog and for National Pain Report. One of my doctors telling me he doesn’t believe I need a cane, based on my MRI, but not offering me an explanation as to why I feel I need it because I’m unsteady on my feet, bumping into walls and my knee giving out on me. But it’s perfectly okay to shame me about using it and offer physical therapy as the Holy Grail of cures after three years of procedures and surgery. There’s also been the well-meaning “I hope you feel better,” that while well-meaning, becomes an irritation after you’ve explained your situation multiple times and are not truly heard. Something I haven’t written about but will be covered soon, that also falls into this, WTF feeling, is when you are made to feel as though you are faking your illness with those very people who are supposed to be taking care of you. I’m talking about the medical professionals in your own doctor office and hospital. Today, I’m discussing the very many ways that people (close to us as well as strangers) are in denial about our disability and aren’t afraid to tell us.

·       You’re not really disabled, you’re just fat: Yes, this happens. I have heard it time and time again and it makes me livid. I’ve never been explicitly told this, but I don’t think it matters. In my case, when I was just beginning this chronic journey and trying to figure out what was wrong, my first place to start was my PCP. Instead of sending me for tests or at least another doctor if they didn’t know what was wrong, I was given diuretics for my swollen fingers and forced to speak to a dietician who told me losing weight would be best for me and I should eat from smaller plates. Yes, she actually said that. My experience is a fraction of what people out there experience. I’ve heard of a woman who did not look obviously disabled, parking in a disability parking spot and when she returned, finding a note on her car saying that she didn’t actually need that spot because “she was just fat,” and she was taking spots from “people who actually needed them.”

·       Your disability doesn’t look like mine: This problem isn’t just among the -abled, it’s pervasive everywhere. The basic idea is that because your disability doesn’t look like mine, then you must not actually be disabled. This can be with anything, and I guess it’s because we are judging the progression of the disease or the severity of it through other people. The thing is, we are all unique creatures. Just because I have fibromyalgia and my neighbor has fibromyalgia, and we’ve both been suffering for seven years but I’m younger than her by ten years and use a mobility aid, doesn’t mean I’m not disabled or I am exaggerating my illness. I feel it is hurtful to make those insinuations about someone because we don’t know their entire medical history, nor is it any of our business. We should be supporting one another, not becoming part of this culture of undermining those who are chronically ill/pain. We have enough people doubting us, we don’t need more.

·       You aren’t disabled unless you are using a mobility aid: Almost contrary to my thoughts above, is the idea that you aren’t disabled unless you are using a walker or cane or wheelchair. I don’t know if this thought comes from the way the disability icon is drawn, with the figure in the wheelchair, but it is something even I had a bit of difficulty working my head around when I began using a cane and received a placard. People do not realize the wealth of issues that can prompt usage of a disability placard or identifying as disabled. A cane doesn’t make you disabled. Your disability makes you disabled. PTSD is invisible and the person can run and jump without issue, but needs the disability placard to get in and out of a facility quickly. There are many illnesses and many who have chronic pain but do not use a mobility aid, who are disabled but you would not see. Disability is not something you can necessarily see and society should understand that.

·       You’re not really disabled; you just don’t want to work: This has got to be one of my favorite misconceptions. While I will concede that there are some out there who would use a fake or exaggerated illness to get out of working, I don’t believe that the majority of us do this. Working compromises so much of our identity and is so important to our ability to survive and just support ourselves, that I believe most people who cannot work, truly can’t work. There is a feeling of guilt when a person comes to the decision that they can no longer work and it affects them psychologically too. I know from my own personal experience that you feel defeated and you feel betrayed by your body. You also feel diminished as a person and as though you are no longer allowed certain things because you don’t have your own money. It is a lot of work recognizing that none of this is your fault and feeling good about yourself again. Disabled people want to work. It’s the accessibility of work that is the issue and the reason so many who have a disability can’t work.

·       You aren’t really disabled if you only use your mobility aid part of the time: There are many who are pretty insistent that because I do not use my cane, 24/7, that I am not truly disabled. My humorous come back for this, because I can be snarky now and then, is, “Why no, my cane is actually a walking staff and I’m really a wizard.” After which I proceed to roll me eyes. Just because I feel safe to navigate my itty-bitty house, without my cane, doesn’t mean I am not still disabled. I cannot navigate outside terrain, from grocery store to parking lots without it because I never know what I might encounter. It could be a crack in the road or just someone who is inconsiderate and pushes their way in front of me because I am slow and I lose my balance. The cane helps me not to fall, it helps when I get tired from walking and begin to hurt. It’s my prerogative to use to help me feel safe in an unfamiliar environment. I think I deserve that. So, yes, I’m still disabled.

There are many more instances, but these were the first to pop into my head. Feel free to message me with your experiences and I will do a follow-up piece to this one. As always, thank you for reading.

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Chronic Illness: Oh, I hope you feel better soon.

We live in a world where being polite is reflective of manners. Someone sneezes, we say “God bless you,” whether we’re Christian or Atheist. It’s not an actual blessing, as Pope Gregory the Great uttered it during bubonic plague epidemic of the sixth century. [https://people.howstuffworks.com/sneezing.htm] (Just figured I’d throw some trivia in there for you. In case you’re ever on Jeopardy.) It’s just considered good manners and nobody thinks much of it. When you are sick, people often tell you to “Get well soon,” or “I hope you feel better.” Sometimes people mean it sincerely, and sometimes it’s just something people say because they are trying to be polite. Regardless, we don’t usually take offense to it and we say “Thanks,” and go on about our day. However, there are some of us who, while we may not take offense to it, are sick of being told “I hope you get better soon.” It may sound strange to you that someone would get upset over a seemingly benign offering to get better, but when you live with chronic illness or pain and aren’t going to get better, it can become aggravating to hear. Even more-so, is when you’ve addressed this, and your friends or family refuse to accept that “getting better” is not part of your story.

exploding-head

It is difficult for everyone to accept they have a chronic condition, especially at first. Chronic means that there is no cure, and that you will have to live with this condition until you die. It can be very daunting even for the most optimistic of individuals, but you eventually learn to live in this “new normal,” and that doesn’t mean you’ve given up hope, it just means there is a level of acceptance that healthy people are unaccustomed to. What I mean by that is, healthy individuals typically only have dealt with things like a cold or sprained ankle, or maybe a broken wrist where they had a cast for awhile or broken leg where they hopped around with crutches. Some, maybe deal with a chronic illness that is controlled by medicine and if they are careful, that is all it takes to keep them healthy. While still chronic, it is maintained so they feel good a lot of the time. Those like me, with chronic illness that is not controlled by medicine and only manages some symptoms, not necessarily all the time, live in another world.

Here are five examples of why telling someone like me, who has chronic illness, “Hope you feel better soon,” (and other things) can be irritating, and in some instances, makes us feel like our head is about to explode and what you might offer instead:

SheldonBoom

  • It’s been five years since I “got sick.” Either I have the longest flu in history or I’m not getting better.
  • We are only co-workers, but I’ve told you I’m chronically ill and you still pat me on the back and tell me “I hope you get better soon.” It’s okay if you don’t know what to say. I’d prefer “Is there anything I can do,” than anything else.
  • I’ve told you before I have a chronic illness. Somedays are worse than others, it’s just the cards I’ve been dealt. You don’t have to say anything at all. You could offer me a hug. Sometimes that can make all the difference.
  • Don’t lay hands on me and start praying over me. Don’t tell me Jesus has a reason and I’ll understand his purpose. Not everyone is religious and if Jesus has a reason, I wish he would have chosen to show it a different way.
  • I know you mean well when you say, “I hope you get better soon,” but it often leads to “How are you feeling today?” The latter is almost worse than the first because, I feel like I’m disappointing you when I say I’m no different than I am every day. And if I am having a good day, you think all the rest of my days should be good and it just doesn’t work that way. Ask me instead: “Is this a good day or a bad day.” If it’s good, be happy with me. If it’s bad, just let me know you are there.

Hellloooo!

Hello again, blogging-world. Miss me? I missed you. But I needed to take some time off for self-care. It’s been frustrating, to say the least. I think we can all agree, that when you suffer with more than one chronic illness, things can get a little hairy from time to time. Your body lets you know, in no uncertain terms, that you’re it’s bitch. (I really tried to phrase that more eloquently, but let’s face it, there’s nothing eloquent about this situation.)

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know that I’m quite overwhelmed with several different things going on. If this is your first time here, I battle R.A., fibromyalgia, ankylosing spondylitis, IBS-d (but I think that is shifting to a mixed form), sacroiliac joint dysfunction, seizures, degenerative disc disease, psoriatic arthritis and migraine. Everyday is different. Somedays I actually feel what passes for good, in my world. In a non-chronically-ill-person, that would translate to something less than good. Crappy, in fact. I deal with it all as it comes, trying to make the best of the days I feel good and where I am not suffocating from pain or debilitated by symptoms.

These last two weeks have been an extended affair of miserable, but I am feeling as though I am finally bridging over the worst part and may be coming out the other side. When I am feeling my worst, I practice a lot of self-care, which for me includes: hot baths with Epsom salt, listening to mixes on Spotify, devouring Twitter and Instagram, taking a lot of pictures of my adorable cat and dog and spending a lot of cuddle time with the Mister. Unfortunately, the Mister was gone this weekend for his one-a-month Air Force gig, so I had to cuddle with the cat and dog, but we made up for it when he got home last night and plan to do more today, after his work.

In my blog, I focus a lot on issues I see in this chronically-ill-world. I also write about the discrimination I see in the disability world. I share my experiences in both those areas, as well as mental health. Some of my chronic conditions not listed above, have to do with mental health, as I am bipolar, struggle with OCD and PTSD and severe anxiety. As many people can relate, when my chronic illness is flaring, I tend to feel a spike in my mental health issues. Meaning, my anxiety ramps up, my OCD goes a little bonkers and I may get depressed or even slightly, manic. It’s all very interconnected. Today, my writing is more, catch-up. Less focusing on specific things, but rather this monster of chronic illness as a whole. It really is like a vast eco-system, and when something is off, or when something is out of control and flaring, it bounces off and affects the other things. These last two weeks, I think I might have gotten a glimpse of how our actual eco-system is feeling in the midst of all this climate change. It’s been brutal.

I had started a chat on Twitter (which you can follow me @lovekarmafood) on whether or not to take the chance with another gastroenterologist. Something else I am sure you understand, is when you know something is wrong with your body and you don’t feel the doctor is understanding or listening, but being afraid to find a new doctor and having to start from scratch again with tests and meds because, frankly, it’s exhausting. Not only is it physically exhausting having to go to the appointments, but it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting. I am pretty close to starting that search for a new doctor, especially after this week. It was probably the worst IBS flare of my life, with stomach pain that was worse than labor pain and was reminiscent of Aliens for me. But I didn’t go to the hospital. I’ve been there before for an IBS flare and it was not worth the visit. Once they know you have something chronic, they do their best to make you comfortable, but pretty much tell you to see your doctor. And in this day and age with the opioid hysteria, I’m not sure what “comfortable” would mean. Sometimes I feel that as an advocate for chronic illness/pain, and as a writer, chronicling her journey through this illness and pain, it should be easier for me to vocalize with doctors what I am feeling and what I am going through, but I’ve learned something. Doctors (not all) have a way of making you feel that they know best. Some come off as arrogant, while others come off more like a parent, but either way makes you feel like you don’t even know your own body. It’s terrible. And partly the reason for my reluctance in finding a new doctor. But I would really like to feel better, long term, with this IBS.

So that is a little about what’s been going on in my life. Stay tuned for the next time where I’ll be talking about our non-spoonie friends and their well-meaning, but irritating: “I hope you feel better soon,” followed by, “You’re not really disabled,” for my friends (like me) with disabilities.

Grief of Chronic Illness/Pain

Yesterday, I cried.
It was a hard week for me, on top of which, my partner was gone for his military duty. It’s not anything unusual, I’ve been without him for longer stretches of time. In fact, he’ll be gone for a week soon and then in the summer, three weeks. But, this small stretch of time he was gone, was profoundly difficult for me.

I’m extremely lucky in that my children are, for all intents and purposes, adults. They range in age from 24 to 18 (all girls) and my youngest, will in fact, be graduating this spring. However, we’re still waiting on the younger two, to get their driver’s license. There really hasn’t been an urgent need for them to get their license with two older siblings and with only one of us working, we’ve been trying to delay the spike in our insurance again.

I do have help from my older two daughters. I often need them to run errands or pick up one of their sisters, especially when I am not feeling well. However, with the three older ones working shift-work, there are times when it falls on me to shuttle someone to work or school or bring them home. Luckily, they do not work or go to school far however, on those days when I am feeling especially bad, there is no other choice but to press on. My function as Mom has not ceased because I have chronic illness and pain; my function as Mom doesn’t get easier on days I don’t feel well. Sisters have fights; there’s drama on occasion and I have to be there regardless if I am sick and regardless if my husband is not there. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming. Sometimes, I break.

When he came home yesterday, I had a meltdown over something stupid. I realized everyone, including him, was looking at me like I lost my mind. He’d been gone and it hadn’t been a fun time for him either, and instead of expressing happiness that he was home, I got irrationally angry over something stupid. When we retreated into the bedroom to talk the anger dissolved into tears with me nearly sobbing. I was flooded with emotion and frustration over what chronic illness has robbed me of; continues to rob me of. Four years past from when this all began and I still continue to mourn my past self.

I write about chronic illness. I write about mental health. These are things I am intimately familiar with. I often read about how chronic illness and pain can cause depression and anxiety but in the context of a person who doesn’t already have this. I am bipolar with anxiety and OCD and I can tell you, that my chronic illness and pain have a profound effect on my mental health. The only analogy I can conjure is that of torture. Chronic illness and pain are a continuous assault to the body and mind. There is no respite from it, and if there is that brief space where you can breathe, it is short-lived, as the recurrence of symptoms and pain seizes your body violently and steals your breath. Now, imagine being tortured and having to continue with your day- continue with all the responsibilities entailed in that day- with a smile. Most people can’t understand what that must be like. It was certainly the furthest thing from my mind four years ago. Four years ago, pain, was something that could be fixed.

I try to live the best life I can. Most days I wake up with a sense of purpose and a positive frame of mind. I have to. I have a family who depends on me and while they may not depend on a paycheck, they depend on all sorts of things from me. Most of all, they depend on me being there as best friend/wife, mother, daughter and friend. These are the things I think about when I’m on that downward slide. But there are times when I need to cry and it’s okay. It’s letting a little of that ‘emotional steam’ out of the pot so I don’t explode like I did yesterday. We often hear about being positive and having motivation but this life we’ve been given is not an easy one and we aren’t un-feeling things. We need to cry and flail and get out our frustration or we’ll explode and become very resentful of our situation.

Yesterday, I cried, but today is another day. I respect my tears and treat them as a stepping stone; something that is needed for me to continue to thrive in order to be able to deal with this life I’ve been given. So, let yourself cry.

Please stay tuned for more blogs this month as I devote March to Chronic Illness/Autoimmune Disease Awareness.
Thank you for reading and supporting my blog.

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The Problem With Comorbities

It all began with one chronic illness- or did it?

At times, I wonder how this all began for me. I was never the poster child for health, but neither was I on the sidelines of life as much as I am now. I think if not all of us with multiple chronic conditions, then surely a great many of us, ask themselves the ever-looming question of: ‘How did this all start? What did I do?’ I think about this often and as I have discussed in my post On Becoming Sherlock, it feels like I am always trying to connect the dots; trying to find that Holy Grail of answers to why I am sick.

Recently, I have been more frustrated with my comorbidities than usual. It’s as though I have reached a tipping point and I am not sure when it happened or if it is more related to the symptoms of each chronic issue, rather than the issue itself. In the beginning, it was pretty easy. I grew up with asthma and allergies, which often led to chronic sinus and bronchitis. But I was a kid and I suppose, while it sucked, I assumed I’d grow out of it. Amusingly enough, I grew out of a lot of things like my allergy to chocolate and cats and dogs, but my asthma stayed and when I get sick it nearly always turns into bronchitis. As an adult, I traded more child-hood illnesses for more grown-up ones and I wish I could swap.

At first, it was manageable and there was the illusion that with each surgery, I might be cured. Bulging disc became laminectomy, which later on evolved to spinal fusion. Avascular necrosis in my left hip was treated with core decompression, which eventually turned into total hip replacement. Sacroiliac Joint Fusion became SIJD Fusion. I’ve had surgeries for carpal and cubital tunnel, surgery for tennis elbow and surgery for torn meniscus. Still not feeling well, I fought to find that magic diagnosis, the reason to why I needed so many surgeries before 40. That is when the gates were thrown open and a flood of answers came forth.

Degenerative Disc Disease, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, and Chronic Pain from failed surgeries. Let’s not forget that my Asthma did not go away, I also developed Chronic Migraine and in the mental health department I was diagnosed as Bipolar II when I was 22, but I also developed OCD, Anxiety and PTSD (which is more PTS these days as symptoms are generally controlled.) My point to all this, is when I am unfortunate enough to have to go the hospital, or have to venture out to a new doctor and I get that dreaded question of, “Do you have any health issues you take medication for regularly?” I freak out. I freak out because scene one is that I whip out my handy-dandy cheat-sheet, a piece of note-book paper with everything listed and hand it over, where I get the “look” from the nurse. You know that look. Or scene two, try to remember everything off the top of my head, which is probably not the best idea given my Swiss-cheese-of-a-brain, rattle off a handle full of stuff and sounding like I am trying-out for a High School play (a part I am not going to get) and still get the “look.” As though I am making stuff up, because, you know, everyone wants to have a ridiculous number of things wrong with them at a near 45 yrs. old.

However, after this deluge of diagnoses, I am no where near a cure and I feel the weight of these comorbities heavy, on my shoulders. I’m pretty sure you can relate, so I’m sharing with you my:

Top 6 Problems with Comorbities

• The Roulette Wheel: Constantly feeling like my life is the personification of a roulette wheel and every morning I wake up it’s the big spin of the wheel of symptoms to see which ones are going to act up.
• Symptom Management: The act of simply juggling my symptoms and trying to manage my pain is exhausting. I (we) are the center of our own universe and all of us have responsibilities outside our health. That never stops.
• Treatment (natural or medical): Another problem encountered when you treat one disease and it wreaks havoc on the other(s). You feel like you are constantly chasing your tail and feel as though you are destined never going to be able to get ahead of this.
• Ripple Effect: A flare here means a flare there, and there, and there, and there…ugh. It’s like a domino effect of your illnesses that make your head spin.
• New vs Old: Not knowing if a new symptom is just another symptom of an already established issue or if it is something new entirely, AND THEN, which doctor to call.

I hope this made you laugh, and even if it didn’t, I hope you know you are not alone. We’re all in this crazy, chronic life together and whether near or far, we’re connected because of it. As always, thank you for reading.

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The Big (not so) Beautiful Lie

When you are first diagnosed with chronic illness/pain, you are very quickly acquainted with dread and fear which are inextricably linked, in addition to overwhelming anxiety. Chronic illness and pain are something which are uniquely foreign to that which we are accustom to. These are not the flu or a cold, or a twisted ankle from tripping on a dog toy. This is something long term (hence the chronic), for which there is no easy remedy or medicine to cure it. Once you’ve been able to process the diagnosis and conquer the dread, you become more optimistic, regardless if you are naturally pessimistic. I think there is a natural, human desire to want to look at the most positive outcome when you are sick and especially, if you are in pain.

Research mode, typically follows this period of distress and positivity, and when I say research, I mean research. Whatever the ailment maybe you are delving into books, diving down the rabbit hole of Google and looking for anything you can find that might help you battle whatever it is you are fighting. You search for groups on Face Book where you can meet people who are going through the same thing, in hopes of not only finding some comradery, but maybe some clue in how to battle this thing and win. You become a person, previously with no knowledge on the subject- maybe not even knowing it was a disease at all, to someone who might as well have an honorary PhD. However, after all that fervor for learning, what happens next is very anticlimactic; nothing. You may find some things that alleviate some of the symptoms; you may walk away with a few new friends who become an extension of your support system, but you find little in the way that makes a dent in how you feel from day to day. (This can vary from person-to-person.)

Weeks go by; months go by; and sadly, for many of us, years go by with little change. What began as a moderately optimistic journey toward recovery becomes a portrait of self-criticism. What I mean is, doubt creeps into our psyche. Did I do something to cause this? Should I have changed my diet? Become Vegan? Should I have switched all my commercial cleaning agents to essential oils? Stopped drinking soda? Drank more green tea? The questions posed in this self-interrogation are endless and the questioning can continue quite a while, covering your entire childhood through your adulthood. It is this idea that if you were just able to do something different, either through your diet or what you are exposing yourself to externally, that you could get better, or better yet, cure yourself. This is the big, not so beautiful lie. This is what many of us zone in on, trying to assign blame to something, not being able to accept it might be the luck of the draw and that sometimes we simply don’t have control over what makes us ill.

Part of the fall-out from this is when strangers or even extended family members issue us advice on how to get better. There is an inward clenching and mental eye roll as we try to maintain our manners. It’s not their fault that they don’t understand, right? I wish I could be more forgiving when someone advises me on the fine attributes of turmeric, but the fact is, if I haven’t already tried it, it’s likely I know about it, courtesy of my intense research. This isn’t an effort to bash those that mean well, rather, it’s an effort to help them understand and by changing the way they word something, come across less assuming and more genuinely interested to help. Example: “You should be taking turmeric. It will help you feel a lot better. I read…” Instead, “In case you haven’t heard, I read turmeric is really good for inflammation…” or “Have you heard about turmeric? I learned it might help bring down inflammation…”
Lastly, if you are struggling with chronic illness/pain, remember it’s not your fault. Stop telling yourself these big, not so beautiful, lies and be kinder to yourself. You are already going through a lot, and self-blame will not help you.

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When Calling the Doctor Feels Like You’re an Inconvenience

Scenario: It’s been roughly three weeks since you’ve seen your doctor. He/She prescribed new meds and you think you aren’t tolerating them well. The scenario could be anything you like, but how you question yourself remains the same just as your reluctance to call the doc up.

 

In my scenario I use the word think as a descriptor in how you are tolerating the medicine because in the grand scheme of the rainbow of symptoms, we, as chronic illness patients can sometimes feel, it is not always easy to determine the why of an onset of new symptoms. It is also difficult for me, to decide whether or not to call the doc and share with them the symptom, out of fear that it is all in my head or not really worth the docs time, and that it will go away in a couple of days. If you are like me there is a certain amount of agonizing before calling the doctor. You have a mental checklist that you have to mark off, nearly all the boxes, before it is deemed legitimate enough to call the doctor. Alright, maybe it’s more like guidelines, but ultimately, it’s a way that I feel my concern is serious enough to call the doctor.

But what is serious? What is serious to you and me are probably different, and what is serious to a doctor is definitely different. I’ve also seen enough doctors that I feel I can make the statement that, male and female doctors can see things differently. This isn’t a blanket statement, just an observation from the many doctors I’ve seen for myself and on behalf of my children. This confusion, as a result of differing bodies and differing doctors can make navigating what to do when something new crops up, very difficult. So difficult in fact, that I spend quite a deal of time stewing in my own anxiety, working myself up and probably making it worse. I wish all doctors made it easier for chronic illness and chronic pain patients to come to them when they had concerns. For example, my rheumatologist gave me her email. This is a great source of relief to me because I can bypass the staff and nurses, trying to explain what is going on and just  leave a message for her. Then, she can email me back advising me if I should come in for a visit, or something else I can do to ease the problem. This may not be something every doctor can do for every patient, but there should be some way bridge this difficulty. Life is already so difficult trying to manage chronic illness/pain. The majority of us come with comorbities that include a staggering number of symptoms that aren’t always there but fluctuate. It’s also pretty common to experience new symptoms that weren’t there before. For instance, I have developed an allergy to adhesive. Never had an issue before and I’ve had a lot of experience with them. It’s annoying.

I wish there was a way to improve the doctor/patient relationship so that the patient doesn’t feel like they are bothering the doctor and the doctor doesn’t feel like the patient is calling all the time. I do understand the need for a doctor to have some off time where they aren’t on call every day and every hour. I also think it is important that the patient feels they can come to their doctor with issues and not feel like they are troubling them. I don’t mind waiting until the end of business hours when they are not busy caring for other patients to get a call back. I don’t even mind if they just leave me a message. But I’ve had doctors not return my call for days, after which I had to take myself to the clinic, where I ended up needing additional meds. I’m not saying I know how to fix this issue, but I think it would be great to open up a discourse with the input of patients, to see how it could be fixed.