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As I wrap up my 20's, I think back at how lucky I have with regards to my health. I've had very few visits to the doctor (other than required and recommended shots and tests (for school and international travel). Never any broken bones, never any organ failures, never any infections. And to be completely fair, I attribute most of my good fortune in personal health to the many preventative shots and availability of drugs offered by the US Healthcare system. Things were so good that every time I went to the doctor for a routine checkup, the doctors never found any problems. To me, it felt like a waste of both time and money.
My First-Hand Experience
But as we age, the body will being to heal less quickly, and more problems will begin to arise. The first major problem I've had to face when I proactively made an appointment was with hives (aka urticaria). I had already identified that I only got hives when I ate crab. At the time, I didn't realize it was possible to gain new allergies, but after browsing online, I've discovered it is possible. Below, I go through each of my appointments, what I learned, and how I felt.
Since I've never had to go to the doctors office before, I had no idea where to start, except to visit my general doctor. The most useful bit of information he could recommend was to find a specialist at the hospital, requiring yet another appointment and co-pay. No a problem! I was making progress.
After my first visit with the specialist and explaining my situation, he confirmed the theory that I had hives and was allergic to crab. He also added all shellfish, which seemed to make sense. His advice was to avoid shellfish and other triggers (like exercise). Other than that, he didn't really offer much more of an explanation. What he did offer was advice on how to track my hives which involves keeping a journal of what I was eating and any hive outbreak. I felt a bit let down by the end appointment, which took less than 15 minutes, mainly because his advice didn't tell me much more. I took the anti-histamines he had prescribed, and they were helping alleviate the problem. But as soon as I stopped taking them, the hives would return. After talking to family and friends, I learned I should have insisted a lab test. Oops. I made a second appointment.
My second visit was the biggest letdown. I had come in with the primary goal of requesting some lab work be done to confirm my condition. What he told me is he didn't think it was a good idea, and that the hives were a psychological problem. The more I thought about the hives, the more it they would appear. As the hives are triggered by the central immune system. What he did do was prescribe me more antihistamines (3 different antihistamines), taken at different times of the day. Again, this was working, but at this point, I began to realize taking anti-histamines was a Band-Aid fix. No progress had been made in attempting to determine the underlying problem.
My last visit to the doctor, I pretty much marched in demanding a blood test. The allergist told me he would issue the blood test to put my mind to ease. Went to the hospitals blood test area and a few days later got the results. Exactly what we originally suspected. An allergy to shellfish. That would be my last visit to the allergist, because I've determined at that point my efforts were useless.
My Doctors Experience
It's not uncommon, but I began to wonder what I should have done differently at each visit. And if I should return again, perhaps to a new allergist. But after reading online, I concluded that many others with the same problem (chronic urticaria) were having problems pinning down the problem, even after numerous tests with their allergist. But I still had questions:
Was my allergist really giving me the best advice, or was he just getting me in and out of the door? If I had been his son, would I have gotten different treatment? More lab tests?
Is it a systemic problem with the US healthcare system for doctors to offer band-aid fixes to alleviate the symptoms, but not the root cause?
Could eastern medicine help? This is something I know nothing about, but the idea always comes across my mind?
Is my problem even curable, or is it something I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life?
What Have I Done?
I've turned much more heavily to the internet, to find real world experiences. I've even gone to the library (and I'm not much a reader) to find book related to Urticaria. This method has given me theories on the cause and ideas on how to live day to day with Urticaria, but again no real solution. Sites that offer "solutions" feel like a business pushing their product (which is a problem with the internet). Till this day, I still don't have a solution. I am completely off antihistamines.
I'm sure my story aligns with many others (with different health problems). I'd bet those many others have far worse stories, even with the ability to make an appointment or with fees. My main wish was that with the internet, the US healthcare offer a way for patients with similar conditions to discuss ideas with one another.