Thursday, February 11, 2016

Chronic Illness Burnout: It’s Real And I’m Feeling It

I’d like to think that I take fairly good care of myself.  But moving from Michigan to New York, and from New York back to Michigan in two and a half years, and having to find a whole new cadre of doctors (twice!), has made me realize that I’ve been pretty delinquent.

I haven’t been to the eye doctor in about three years, and I’m supposed to go yearly because of the potential for retinal toxicity caused by quinacrine.  I haven’t had an annual gyno exam in almost two years, and I can’t remember the last time I had a legit physical. 

How did this happen?  And how does this constitute taking care of myself?  There are two reasons for why concentrating on my health has run amok. 

The first is that after five years of dealing with trying to get my illnesses under control, since I have had some control over the past few years, it all goes out the window.

My symptoms have evolved.  I experience a lot of fatigue, I have sores in my nose and mouth nearly constantly, my back is in constant pain, and I am battling severe dry eye.  I know that these are clear signs of some illness activity.  I know I should be dealing with them.  But I’m tired.

There’s only so much about myself that I can work on at any given time, and I guess given recent (and not so recent) events, my health hasn’t been at the top of my list.

I think that when your body is no longer constantly going haywire, it’s easy to become complacent.  It’s easy to pretend that you are healthy, or at least healthier than you’ve felt in a long time. 

This is really hard to admit.  Because my health should always be my top priority.  And recently, it just hasn’t been. 

The second is that my insurance situation has been somewhat sketchy and not continuous for the last few years, given school, having to find my own insurance because I was working a part-time job that did not offer benefits, navigating the marketplace, dealing with an insurance company going under, and then being unemployed.

I elected a PCP that my mom had seen years ago, and then when I called to make an appointment, I was told the doctor was not accepting any new patients.  I made an appointment with another doctor in the practice and called my insurance company to make that person my PCP.  Then, two hours before my appointment, they called and cancelled it.  Not only that, but they first told me the appointment was at 11:15 a.m., then 11:30 a.m., and when they called to cancel, they said it was 11:45 a.m.  It’s funny how as patients we are expected to cancel an appointment at least 24 hours in advance 0r risk having to pay for it, but doctors can cancel appointments just a few hours before with no penalty.  Needless to say, I decided that I wanted nothing to do with this particular office.  The demeanor of a doctor’s office staff can really make or break building a relationship with a doctor, even before you’ve even seen the doctor.

I then called a bunch of other doctors, none of which returned my calls.  Then I was looking at my grandmother’s doctor who was said not to be accepting new patients.  I decided to call anyway on the off chance that they were accepting new patients. 

I’ve also discovered that the system for my current insurance for picking a doctor is completely inaccurate.  They list doctors who aren’t accepting new patients as accepting new patients.  And doctors that are accepting new patients they have down as not accepting new patients.  So basically, this means that I have to call every office myself to make sure the information is accurate.   

Well, it ends up that my grandmother’s doctor is accepting new patients and I was able to get in to see him.  And he was amazing!  A new patient appointment consisted of sitting and talking with me about me medical history for almost forty-five minutes.  That was it.  He had me schedule a full physical for a later date.  But I was super impressed by how he just listened and asked questions.  He even brought up issues that I may face in pregnancy. 

He was impressed with how much of my medical history I knew off the top of my head, like being able to rattle off every medication I have ever been on to treat my lupus and RA.  I think it’s funny because I don’t know any other way to be.  I wouldn’t be on my game if I didn’t know these things. 

This experience reinforces for me why I am a patient advocate.  As stressful and frustrating as it has been for me to find a PCP within the constraints of my insurance and individual doctors’ offices rules and regulations, I imagine that many patients would simply give up.  But I can’t afford to give up.    

I’m making my health my top priority again. 

Now off to find a new rheumatologist…


  1. Geez, I can relate to this so much...but that doesn't make me any less upset that you're dealing with all of this. How stressful! Establishing a new team of physicians as I transition from being a pediatric patient to an adult patient has taken me nearly two years. It is a huge process--I can't imagine having to figure out insurance amongst that, too. Sending you all my extra spoons! Glad you had a great first experience with that doc :)

  2. Congratulations on finding a doc that you like, that listens to you, that will help you become the best you can be. Wishing you a wonderful 2016.

  3. the new doctor sounds amazing, so glad you found him! I’m pretty delinquent myself, primarily paying attention to the things that are very noticeable. If I were to pay attention to everything about my RA, I’d never have time to do anything else. At least, that’s what it feels like.

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