“My knees hurt,” I said to the doctor.
“You have osteoarthritis,” she replied, smiling.
How does she know that? She never even looked at my knees. She didn’t touch them. What is that, anyway? Is it bad?
Two years later.
“My knees hurt,” I said to the nurse. Smiling, she said, “Yes, osteoarthritis comes to all of us as we age.”
Oh. Why didn’t my doctor say that? How hard would it have been?
I asked the doctor, “What did the Xray show? Does it tell you why my back hurts? It’s been like this for months.”
“You have a compression fracture,” he said. “It’s old, and it’s above the site of the pain.”
Oh. Old? It must be healed, then. Maybe it’s from when my ex-husband kicked me in the back 40 years ago. I wonder what is causing the pain? What is a compression fracture, anyway?
I said to my new doctor, “My back hurts. All the time. I’m tired of hurting.”
(After the exam, after laying down on the table with great difficulty because of the pain, and needing her help to get up again because of the pain, and after we talked about how maybe physical therapy and exercise might help, she looked at the Xray from last year.)
“No PT for you,” she said. “You have compression fractures, right here, directly above the pain. You need an MRI, and maybe they will be able to inject cement in there and make it better. And you need to take twice as much calcium as you are taking.”
A solution? Maybe? More calcium? OK. And what is a compression fracture, anyway? Wait. It’s not that old? It’s not healed? An MRI...is that the donut machine or the long scary one? I am so confused!
Her nurse helped with some of my questions, and gave me some written information about others, but I was too confused really to think of everything I needed to know.
So I Googled compression fractures when I got home, and discovered that they are related to osteoporosis, and often caused by a fall. I fell two years ago - tripped over the Cat and landed flat on my back - and I’ve been in pain more often than not ever since. Compression fractures apparently usually heal on their own in a few months. But they are usually up higher on the back, not down in the lumbar area where mine is. Lower back injury is harder to heal? I guess?
Why couldn’t the first doctor tell me that? Why didn’t this doctor tell me that? Why did I have to go look it up on the internet?
I am in a field that has its own specialized language. I spent eight years in college and graduate school learning that specialized language, but when I am speaking with people who are not in my field, I am careful not to use those words and phrases. I am careful to use language they will understand. If they do not understand me, what’s the point of talking?
Why don’t doctors feel that way? I am not a stupid person, but I feel stupid when they use words I don’t understand, and don’t explain them, and I know I don’t know enough even to ask intelligent questions. I go in with a list of questions and topics I need to tell/ask them about, and I do manage to get through my list more often than not. But if anything else comes up, I am out of luck. I can’t think of the right questions. They are usually overbooked and in a hurry to get to the next patient. So I leave, confused and usually totally misunderstanding what I have been told. And I don’t trust Google.