Being prepared for a medical emergency

Photo by Casey Gomez

When I was growing up, my family never really went to the doctor. We had all our shots and occasionally would go to an urgent care when we got strep throat or the flu, but we didn’t have a primary care doctor and never went in for check ups. We were just always busy with work, school and sports, and we were always pretty healthy. I never liked going to the doctor anyway. I’m not afraid of doctors. I’m just prideful. I didn’t want to be a hypochondriac who was constantly going to the doctor when there was nothing wrong. I didn’t think doctors were important unless you were sick, and I always thought that medical issues would never happen to me.

At the beginning of winter break I woke up with such bad pain in my lower left side that even I couldn’t deny I needed to go to see a doctor. I ended up in the ER getting ultrasounds and CT scans with doctors constantly streaming in and out, poking and prodding. I had multiple IVs set, blood drawn, several shots and doses of pain medication. Nurses were constantly asking what my pain levels were as if that was something quantifiable and easy to articulate, and doctors would come in and push my abdomen looking worried. I was scared, but I had to trust the people presumably taking care of me.

Finally, an official looking doctor in a white lab coat came to the room. He said they had found a large mass that was likely attached to my left ovary. He told us it could be cancerous, that I would likely need surgery and referred me to a gynecologist who was affiliated with the hospital.

I went in for the appointment, and when the gynecologist came in, I knew right away I hated him. He was coarse and rude. He was condescending and didn’t believe I was in pain. He told me I needed surgery right away and insisted that the incision couldn’t be laparoscopic because they needed to remove the mass in one piece. I couldn’t stand him, but I didn’t have time to look for another doctor. I was stuck trusting him.

I went in for surgery the next day, and after the procedure the doctor debriefed my parents about what they found. When they made the incision to remove the mass, the doctors were shocked to discover that the tumor was attached to my fallopian tube instead of my ovary, which is extremely unusual. It was also much larger than they anticipated. The tumor turned out to be 15 centimeters, meaning the incision was the same size. They told us over and over how they had never seen anything like this before. It was unheard of. These aren’t exactly comforting words when used to describe a mass that was removed from your torso. They sent the mass and the tube to pathology to examine it, and it was found to be completely benign.

A week after the operation, I looked up reviews of my surgeon to see how other people felt about him. His rating was three stars. Many people complained about his bedside manner, saying he was cross, irritable and rude. One person noted that he pushed more invasive procedures because he was unqualified to perform less invasive ones. I was kicking myself for not having a gynecologist or primary care doctor before this ordeal. I began to regret never going to the doctor.

Having regular doctor visits wouldn’t have prevented this surgery. It probably wouldn’t have even found the tumor sooner, given the sudden onset of the pain. What it would have done is ensured that the doctor performing surgery and overseeing my recovery was one that I knew and trusted.

When you’re already sick it’s too late to shop for doctors. You’re left with no options because the situation is urgent, meaning you settle for doctors that you would normally never see. There’s no time to get second opinions or build relationships with staff. When you inevitably get sick, the peace of mind you get from already knowing your doctor is worth the time it takes to go once a year.