The frustrations of not having a relationship with your doctor

June 29, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Posted in arthrits, arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 7 Comments
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Thanks to the state of the NHS today (which, if you read this blog often you will know I harp on about endlessly) it is simply not possible to have a relationship with your GP these days (unless you’re incredibly lucky or live on some tiny island that actually has its own GP or something!) My GP practice has around 10 GPs plus locums. It’s pot luck who you get to speak to when you call and they phone you back, and then if they decide you should be seen you won’t see the person you spoke to that morning.

It also seems that they don’t have much of a relationship with the hospital and seem to have some sort of mythic belief in the power of the rheumatology helpline, as I’ve also mentioned before.

The myth

The patient calls the GP because they have an RA flare. This is a shocking waste of the GP’s time because these lucky, .lucky patients have an RA helpline that they can call and that will solve all their problems. They can speak to a lovely nurse* straight away and the nurse will wave her magic wand, waggle her magic pixie ears and solve the patient’s problem.

* Actually that’s the only true bit – the one we have at the moment IS a lovely nurse!

The facts

The lovely nurse, or even a secretary or receptionist, never EVER answers the helpline. It is an answerphone. That’s the way it’s set up. It’s not an answerphone on odd occasions when they’re exceptionally busy, it’s ALWAYS an answerphone. The message on the helpline says something like: ‘If you’re calling about a non-RA related problem, please call your GP. If you’re calling to change an appointment, please call reception. If you’re calling about an urgent need, please call your GP. If you’re calling to buy fish, please contact your fish monger. If you’re calling to moan about Brexit, please contact your MP. If you’re calling because you’re a moron, voted ‘Leave’ and can’t work out what a helpline is for, please call someone else and bother them. Now, if you really, really want to leave a message, we suppose you can. Give us your hospital number and name and telephone number and we’ll try to call you back in 24 hours – but no promises mind.’

I don’t know about you (actually I probably do, if you have RA) but I consider a flare pretty urgent.

While in an ideal world I would sit back on a couch, watch the telly and let my servants feed me grapes while I rested my knee and waited to see if it would clear up on its own, I do actually have a life (and no servants, and hubby is great but also has a life, and the cat just ain’t interested in helping), so I can’t just sit about and rest it. On that basis I can’t wait potentially 48 hours or more for the helpline to phone, and the nurse say, ‘Call your GP and get some prednisolone’ because then I can’t call the GP until Monday  as 48 hours is Friday morning and by the time I’ve heard back from the helpline the GP has run out of appointments. By that time I will have been flaring for over a week!

What Polly did Next

So … I went to the appointment grudgingly granted me by the grumpy GP. (Ooh, nice alteration that penguin!) Fortunately it’s with a much more pleasant locum GP than the one I spoke to on the phone. Unfortunately of course she doesn’t know me from Adam (or strictly speaking, as a doctor, she can probably spot I’m not Adam from the wobbly bits, so I should say she doesn’t know me from Eve). This means that she doesn’t know if I’m a moron or not, and therefore has to assume I am, as we always have to cater for the lowest common denominator.

‘How can I help you?’

‘I’m having an RA flare in my knees, as usually particularly in my left knee. It’s stiff, not very flexible and painful at times.’

‘Have you called the helpline, because really -‘

‘Yes.’

‘Oh, and what did they say?’

‘I said I’d called them, not that I’d spoken to them!’ I then explained, gently, ’cause she was a locum and therefore wouldn’t necessarily know any better, the realities of the helpline. (I didn’t mention Brexit or fish mongers.)

‘Hmm, you had a blood test only yesterday and your bloods were hardly elevated at all.’

‘They never are.’ The mere fact that my bloods are even a smidge elevated is a pretty strong indication of a flare with me. Sometimes I flare and there’es no indication whatsoever in the bloods. Now this is where a doctor relationship would come in handy. If she’d actually known me, known that I’ve had RA for nearly ten years, known that I’ve had umpteen flares in my left knee, known that blood tests are not a helpful indicator with me, known that I have a brain, we could have skipped the pointless bits, more of which are coming up.

‘Ah, well let’s have a look.’ Prod, poke.

‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!’

‘Did that hurt when I pressed there?’

‘No, I just thought I’d make screamy gurgling noises for fun.’ (Nope, I didn’t really say that either, I just said yes.)

‘Can you bend it?’

‘This much.’ Demonstrated a very slight bend.

‘Ah. Have you tried pain killers… like paracetamol?’

I’m afraid I just looked at her and laughed, finally managing to choke out a ‘yes’, followed by ‘interspersed with ibuprofen.’ She looked amazed that I’d been able to think of painkillers all by myself.

‘Well I’ll prescribe a course of steroids. Now if they don’t work, we’ll have to consider other possibilities like osteoarthritis, as they should work for RA.’

‘Well, they’ve worked every other time I’ve had them, so touch wood that they will this time too.’

‘Oh … right.’ Look of mild astonishment, either that I’d had them before (it’s in the notes dear) or that I actually knew that I’d had them before, who knows.

So I thanked her very nicely, ’cause I’m a well brung-up penguin … and I might run into her again, and off I went to the chemist to get my steroids.

Again, after nearly ten years of RA, I think I recognise an RA flare when I see one … I really hope I’m not proved wrong and that the steroids do work again this time and it doesn’t turn out to be OA. That would be sooooo embarrassing after this post!

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7 Comments »

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  1. It makes me laugh the number of rheumatology nurses, or even rheumatologists who have suggested to me “Have you tried ibuprofen/paracetamol”? I’ve had this 12 years now, don’t you think I might possibly have tried an over the counter painkiller by now?!
    Also – READ MY NOTES YOU MORONS… (sorry, just getting a frustration off my chest apparently!)

  2. I see I touched a nerve there Ruth! Good to know it’s not just me. If I didn’t know already I’d have known straight away that you were also in the UK. This doesn’t seem to be something our American friends suffer from (or Eileen in Italy) … mostly because they can nip down the road to a more useful doctor, which is a choice we don’t have. Then again, at least rain or shine, employed or not, we have medical cover … of a sort… at the moment …

  3. Oh, my, Polly! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! For all it’s flaws, one of the great things about the US insurance system is that we generally do get to form relationships with doctors. My rheumatologist “trusts” me with a prescription for prednisone that I can use as needed to do a taper or if I need a lose dose to help me through travels for a few days. (Don’t be jealous.) All that aside, I hope the steroids do the trick and all your flippers are back in good shape soon!

  4. (Sorry, low dose, not lose dose!)

  5. I hope you laughed ’cause I had fun writing that post, and that just about stopped me crying with frustration! Yes,I’m SLIGHTLY jealous, but then again I wouldn’t want to have gone through what you’ve been going through, with both health and insurance! I hope you’re continuing to do well and being more and more back on your feet!

  6. Reading this does make me appreciate my relationships that I have with my doctors. I feel blessed to be able to see them when I need to and they know me. However, it my recent left knee flare, my rheumy couldnt see me and I went to the local urgent care center. I got good care, but he didn’t know me and he doesn’t realize that the pain had to be excruciating for me to show up there.
    I hope the pred works for you. I’m on day 3 of 6 and it feels better, but still painful and stiff in the am. So then I start to wonder when is it a flare or when is it that the biologic has stoped working? Time will tell my friend. Feel better!

  7. Hi P50C 🙂 I really hope it’s ‘just’ a flare – my previous pred taper was originally supposed to be a week but then got extended to another week in the end because although it was a lot better, i wasn’t right after a week – so, don’t despair that it’s not better by day 3! I’m already much better (though not back to normal) after one 30 mg dose! I hope you’re fully better soon!


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