Learning The Value Of Physical Therapy – A Patient’s Perspective (Part 2)

To Recap: Last week I covered why I wanted to write about the value of physical therapy, and how my flawed mentality got me into hot water. You can read part 1 HERE. This week, I get down and dirty about my ride on the “healthcare merry-go-round”, the people who joined me, and the making of my mess.  Again, I want to reiterate that these were just interactions I had with healthcare professionals along the way. I’m sure their intentions probably were to help me, even though it may not have seemed that way at the time. Their specialties all have a place in healthcare, but they aren’t going to be the first place I stop at in the future!


Just a little snippet on my HMO insurance…..I’m not going to say much on this subject, as HMO pretty much speaks for itself. It’s a revolving door of referrals, authorizations, and denials. It’s like walking around with a pebble in your shoe or a thorn in your side, making everything just a little more difficult than it really needs to be. Everyone should try an HMO once in their life…. just for the experience! Moving on to the Primary Care Doctor.…

Two years prior to my injury, I had started having consistent pain in my neck, head, and back area. I was on a steady diet of Motrin for this. I work a desk job, and eventually it was just too hard to sit and work.  My “quick fix” medication wasn’t cutting it. Over the next year, I went to my primary care doctor three times. She diagnosed me with head, neck, and back pain…. and for some reason a urinary tract infection?  I got antibiotics, muscle relaxers, and was told to keep taking Motrin. No mention of what might be causing the issue, or any other possible solutions. Why she ever thought I had a urinary tract infection, I will never know ha ha. This interaction wasn’t really good or bad. It just wasn’t “anything”, and produced no results. She was satisfied with the status quo. The only thing I got out of this was a “referral” to the chiropractor, which was my idea. I’m on the merry-go-round now, but really bored because it’s going slow and nobody is on it with me.  Moving on to the Chiropractor….

One year prior to my injury, and after obtaining the coveted “referral” required by my HMO, I started seeing a chiropractor. I got x-rays and was told I was in “bad shape”. I was subluxed and degenerated, and needed to start treatment ASAP. I jumped on board with this, went three times a week over the next year, and it did provide some relief! This treatment still kept me in that “quick fix” mindset. Each visit was only a few minutes, got adjusted, and back to my day.  I was now dependent on this for relief, just as I had been on Motrin. Hey, at least I had someone on the merry-go-round with me now, and we were having a pretty good time….. at least for a while!

The day of my acute injury, I had gone in for a regular adjustment, but this time I didn’t get relief and it caused me pain. It was a severe “pinched nerve” feeling in my neck and back. I was told not to worry, and that they could fix this.  I was still “all in” at that point, and wanted to see if they could help me, but this would be the beginning of my mess.

One week into my mess, I had went every single day for adjustments, but the pain was getting much worse. I couldn’t sit, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t work, and was losing strength in my right hand. Taking 800 mg of Motrin barely made a dent.  He took another set of x-rays, and seemed very concerned. He stated my x-rays looked much worse than at my initial evaluation one year prior. My heart dropped into my stomach, he got nervous, and I got scared. Was it the adjustments that caused the problem or was it a coincidence? I didn’t really know, it didn’t really matter, and I just needed help. I told him I thought I should seek other medical care since things were getting worse. He then became somewhat defensive. Maybe he was offended that I wanted to get another opinion, or thought I was accusing him of something.  I expected him to offer some suggestions, but that didn’t happen. This interaction became all about him, and not about helping the patient anymore, so that relationship was over! I was on the ride alone again, and it was spinning faster.  Moving on to the ONLY place that my HMO doesn’t require a “referral”…. the Emergency Room…

Two weeks into my mess, I still have severe pain in my neck/back/arm, numbness and tingling, and the right hand was much weaker…. off to the ER! This ER doctor examined me, and sent me for an MRI. A few hours later, he briskly informed me I had a herniated disc in my cervical spine (neck) that was pressing on some nerves, which was the reason for my intense pain and weakness. He gave me a script for pain medications and steroids. He also handed me a card for a neurosurgeon, and stated I needed to see him ASAP. I spent the next week popping pills, flipping out, and of course searching on Google for all the horrible things that could happen. This interaction provided me six things… a diagnosis, three medications, a business card, and a lot of anxiety!  That doctor could work on his “diagnosis delivery” skills, but he did his job that day, and I can’t fault him for that. I’m freaking out now, and my ride has really picked up speed!

Moving on to the Neurosurgeon and the PM&R doctor…..

Three weeks into my mess, I have worked myself into an anxious frenzy, have my “referral”, and now I’m seeing the neurosurgeon. This was my least favorite interaction. He examined me and reviewed the MRI. After just a few minutes, he very bluntly said he could “fix” all my problems by drilling a hole through the front of my throat and shaving off the disc that was pressing on the nerve. I almost passed out, and then started to cry. I told him I didn’t want this and asked what else could be done. His demeanor quickly changed to irritated and angry. He spent the next 10 minutes reprimanding me and talking down to me like I was an idiot for asking questions. He said he was busy, had other patients to see, and flippantly commented, “You can TRY physical therapy, but it probably won’t work,and might make it worse.”  He then said he would have his PM&R doctor see me. I didn’t know what a “PM&R” doctor was, or why I needed to see one. I’m still crying, had failed to wear my waterproof mascara, and now looked like a complete disaster!

This new doctor walked in with a consent form for an epidural injection in my neck, and a “referral” for physical therapy.  Nobody asked me if I wanted an injection, or told me what it was really for, and I was having NONE of it that day! They spent about 15 minutes with me, treated me like an idiot, and then expected me to just blindly agree to their interventions. My thinking was this….

If you can’t treat me with common respect, then why would in the world would I trust you to cut into me with a sharp instrument or stick a large needle into my neck?

I left that appointment upset, exasperated, still in pain, confused.... and crying all the way home ha ha ha. If I wouldn’t have been in so much pain, I would have tried throwing both of them off the merry-go-round! This interaction, while extremely negative, was probably the best thing that could have happened to me at this point, but I wouldn’t realize this just quite yet……..

Wait… hang on a second……Everyone was offering me “quick fix” solutions for my problem, so why am I so upset!  Adjustments, surgery, injections, medications…… so what’s the problem here?  The problem was that nobody was really explaining my condition to me, what was causing it, what the interventions were all about, and what the consequences may be. They didn’t spend enough time with me or give me enough information. This was my spine, there were nerves involved, and I couldn’t afford to make a wrong decision based on limited information.  Was there something else I could be doing to help myself?  Were these my only options?  I had lasted three weeks with this pain, and figured I could go a little longer if it meant finding answers to my questions. I needed to stop just going along for the ride, and take some control of my own situation. I closed my eyes and jumped off that spinning merry-go-round. I ended up landing in a ditch, but made sure to keep a tight grip on that interesting piece of paper the doctor had given me that day……… the “referral” to PHYSICAL THERAPY.

Fun Term Of The Week - Merry-Go-Round: A continuous cycle of activities or events, especially when perceived as having no purpose or producing no result.

UP NEXT WEEK:   PT Tow Truck, Skeptical Train Wreck Patient, and the Weirdest Exercises I Have Ever Seen…….Stay Tuned for Part 3!