Several weeks ago, I introduced Acting Our Age readers to Janice, an articulate woman with many interesting insights to share. When I met with Janice, she was recovering from an illness that had sapped her energy and tested her patience. As she described her exhausting pursuit for an accurate diagnosis, it was unclear if Janice was more distressed about the disease or the lack of interest from the medical community. Janice cites her age as the source of the indifference she encountered, but her experience will likely resonate with people across the age spectrum.
“I am so disappointed in our geriatric health care. The doctors just aren’t interested. They tell you to go home and take a Tylenol. They don’t try to find out what’s wrong or what they can do about it.
Not long ago, Janice’s hands and ankles began to swell. There was no apparent trigger that caused her limbs to enlarge uncomfortably. Janice recalls feeling the pain and the fear when her hands seemed to be replaced by a pair of clunky baseball bats.
In response to her symptoms, Janice did everything right. She contacted her doctor — and then saw other doctors — but no one had any answers for her. Janice became increasingly frustrated. She wasn’t convinced that her ailment was that obscure. Instead, she understood that her condition was merely a low priority.
I kept going to the doctor and no one was doing anything.
Janice was unable to get the attention she needed from the medical community.
The situation was stressful on many levels. The process of physically going to doctor appointments was complicated. Janice no longer drove, and now that her ankles were swollen, she was too unsteady to take public transportation. Her daughter Jennifer was very willing to drive her but, as a physician and the mother of a young child, her availability was limited.
Unfortunately, just scheduling and attending the appointments was not enough. Janice felt that when she exited the doctors’ offices, she had the same sparse level of information that she had when she first arrived. While the understanding of the diagnosis remained unchanged, the pain continued to intensify.
Then Janice reached her limit.
Finally, I told the doctor that I was not leaving the office until someone told me what’s wrong with me. I had to become livid before they would take me serious and order a blood test and x-rays. I am not a crybaby or a complainer, but I had decided that I needed to know in case there was something I could do.
It wasn’t until Janice demanded to be taken seriously that she began to get the information she needed. She had a battery of tests and the results confirmed that she had rheumatoid arthritis. Her daughter did a thorough review of specialists in the area. She located an excellent doctor who took the time to understand Janice’s condition and prescribe effective medication. Her hands and feet have returned to a normal size.
Janice spent her childhood in segregated Montgomery, Alabama. Sadly, she notes that the inadequate attention she has received in response to her geriatric health issues is uncomfortably reminiscent of how her family and neighbors were treated in the South.
“I come from an environment where black people had no medical care. Nobody cared for them. They just had to tough it out.”