Does this hurt?


Years ago I had a persistent and annoying pain in my upper back. I mentioned it to my doctor, my Primary Care Physician, during a routine visit. What followed was a mind bending series of tests, including a brain scan with injected contrast, all to no avail. Finally my PCP, scratching his head, referred me to an orthopedic surgeon.

During my visit, the specialist asked me a couple of questions, beginning with “where does it hurt” and then pressed a thumb confidently into my back. “Does this hurt?” he asked. It was an unnecessary inquiry since I almost jumped off the table. “You have tendonitis. “ Elapsed time: about 30 seconds.

When I’m in a fog; faced with decisions I don’t know how to make, and feeling stuck and frustrated I remember the tendonitis incident. Then I attempt to get to the “thumb in the back” stage as quickly as possible.  Here is the sequence:

  1. Admit that I need help; that I can’t figure this on out on my own.
  2. Acknowledge that there is a specialist out there who can help me, and is prepared to help me.
  3. Work hard at finding the right person, expecting a couple of false starts.
  4. Keep notes, including honest assessments of what’s working, what’s not working, what the opportunities and challenges are, and being clear about who I’m competing with.
  5. Accept that this is a process; that it will take time, be frustrating, and will only work if I stick with it.
  6. Repeat

I hate admitting that I need help. I’m supposed to be the specialist. But the reality is that we each suffer from a special blindness when it comes to diagnosing our own illnesses. And we need help.

Who is helping you?