When Doctors Dismiss Your Symptoms
Last updated: October 2022
I recently had an appointment with my dry eye doctor and I was reminded of just how great she is. Looking back, I’ve had a terrible time with many healthcare providers, including optometrists, who didn’t listen, didn’t believe, didn’t know, and/or simply didn’t care.
Trying to talk to an optometrist
Many years ago, I had been dealing with the classic gritty, sandpapery feeling in my eyes that had been steadily increasing in intensity. At the time, my eyes were very bloodshot, and my eyelashes had been falling out so much that I estimate I had only about 50% of them left. The pain in my eyes was constant and consuming. I had no idea at the time what was causing it.
As I mentioned in my diagnosis story, I had brought up the symptoms I was experiencing to my optometrist during my regular annual exam. This was only the second or third annual exam with him, so there wasn’t much of a rapport between us.
After the initial exam, I explained the scratchiness and pain I was experiencing. He looked over my eyes closely and then determined that everything looked fine and healthy, and that I was just experiencing tired eyes from staring at a computer screen all day. Mind you, my eyes were neon red at the time. I mean, glow-in-the-dark, Rudolph’s-nose, get-picked-for-every-round-of-drug-testing-at-work red!
I reiterated how much pain I was in and how much of my eyelashes had fallen out. I asked if it could be ocular rosacea, since that was something I found to be similar after searching online and since I had also developed inflamed red skin across my nose and cheeks. He scoffed and stated that he had just come from a seminar on ocular rosacea and I didn’t have it.
When I asked if I should see an ophthalmologist about it, that really set him off. I got a brief lecture on Googling symptoms. He told me the brand of some over-the-counter eye drops and, talking to me like a child, repeated it and asked if I had it down correctly. After that, he pretty much stopped speaking to me and escorted me out of the appointment.
I won’t hold back, that guy was a jerk. I wish I could say that I looked for a second opinion, but by that time in my life, I was used to being dismissed and treated poorly by physicians and other healthcare providers. So I didn’t bother.
Finding another doctor
Fast forward a couple of years and I received notice in the mail stating that that optometrist I had seen was retiring and closing his practice. I was devastated.
Just kidding! Though it was the push I needed, and it turned out to be a blessing.
Not sure how to pick a new optometrist, I was lucky to find a practice with a website that advertised heavily that they specialized in treating dry eye. At that first appointment, I was overwhelmed with information and treatment options from a caring and responsive optometrist. Not only did she listen to my clumsy descriptions of my symptoms, but also took the time to explain the terminology as well as the actual causes.
A huge difference
After what was probably a couple of hours of examination and testing, my initial diagnosis was meibomian gland dysfunction and blepharitis caused by demodex. She also suggested that the inflammation in my eyes could be due to underlying systemic inflammation, which I did eventually get diagnosed as seronegative rheumatoid arthritis.
The difference between that first optometrist and my current one is like night and day.
We deserve to be heard
I think many of us have dealt with practitioners that just aren’t interested in listening, or bristle at having their authority questioned. I know many times, especially in rural areas, our only option is to pick the least-worst-of.
Between a lack of providers and our insurance networks, sometimes there just aren’t any options. I want you, the reader, to know that if your provider is rude, non-communicative, or outright hostile, you deserve better. It’s worth the time and expense to find a good one; they are out there.
Has having dry eye helped you better advocate for yourself?