As a physician, I encounter patients who have complaints that seem to make no sense. Either there are too many vague symptoms which point to absolutely nothing, or they are complaining about multiple different issues, that it seems they are trying to find something wrong with themselves.Others times, they are struggling to put into words exactly what they are feeling.
A lot of times physicians dismiss them as invalid or crazy. And sometimes they are right. Sometimes patients have mental disease that cause them to have paranoia or hypochondriasis ( Side note: I am not calling these people crazy, I do not refer to anyone with mental illness as crazy).Frequently you are faced with malingerers who are making up symptoms simply for some kind of gain such as time off work, opioids, or government or disability benefits.
But sometimes we are very wrong.
A few weeks ago, I was having some vague symptoms. I was feeling feverish and had chest heaviness with mild discomfort breathing or taking a deep breath. It wasn’t the typical shortness of breath and chest pain of pleuritis that I’ve had before.I tried explaining my symptoms to the nurse at the doctors office so she could tell the doctor, but struggled to really express how I was feeling.She called back later ( Yes, the doctor never spoke to me himself) and said the doctor says ” Just go to the ER”.
At this point I’m starting to feel like I’m crazy. I know I’m not sick enough to go to ER, but I know I’m not well. I explain what I’m feeling to the people at work, all while looking perfectly healthy, and they are looking at me like I’m crazy. My parents are telling me I’m probably just getting sick and should rest. I go to a cardiologist, have an EKG and echo, and they find nothing. I listen to myself explaining how I feel, and realize as a physician it doesn’t even make sense to me.
Eventually it gets better on its own, and I’m left wondering what was really wrong with me. Perhaps I will never know. But it reminded me of a lesson I learned early on in the course of my disease. Always take everyone seriously. Listen to their complaints carefully and completely. And if I can’t make sense of it, send them to a specialist who might be able to. Never write anyone off as crazy.