When I thought of this blog, I thought of a lot of different titles, Why the Tears, When Life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, and the list goes on, but I decided on simplicity and therefore this is all about my journey with my Rheumatologist past and present. I only know how perfect my Rheumatologist is and over the years, have talked about him to so many people and was surprised when people would not have positive experiences with their Rheumatologist. Even now with social media, I am on several group pages for people with auto-immune diseases, and time after time see people post terrible experiences with their Rheumatologist and I thank God time and time again for the wonderful Rheumatologist I was blessed with at a very young age.
When I think about my Rheumatologist over this past year, I cannot do so without tears. See, I have seen my Rheumatologist since I was 15-years old. That is 38 years give or take about right now, I think. He has been my lifeline for my Rheumatoid Arthritis for a very long time. He saw me through my high school years, and graduation, attend college, get married, college graduation, all my various employments (he always showed a generous interest in my personal life), the birth of my daughter, too many surgeries to name, and too many hospitalizations due to flare-ups than I care to remember. I knew he was always just a phone call away and his right hand, Dawn, was the familiar voice I remember always hearing when I needed him. I saw him in my hometown at a local orthopedic office, Dr. Ogden, who was awesome as well. Then when I went moved away, I traveled to Duke for visits. When I returned to the Danville area, I was able to see him in a local clinic. But then the day came, where like many offices, the one he practiced in was bought out and he was no longer seeing patients in Danville. I know I am not the only one who felt the loss, but it was a huge loss for me. But on the bright side, he was willing to see me in the clinic at Duke, where he would be working with fellows in the Rheumatology program. He would pop his head in for a visit, and that gave me comfort as I knew he was still there if I ever needed anything. I may have seen a “Fellow,” but he was my Doctor and in mind always would be. That is until I received my last bill, and it was so high I had to do a double-take. I called my insurance company and discovered it was the way it was billed, something to the effect of being hospital-based and a lot of other insurance jargon. I then called the hospital clinic to see if it could be billed differently and they said it could not. With sympathy for my situation, they at least did alter the bill for that visit and encouraged me to find another doctor to see as they would not be able to alter another bill. So I decided I just wouldn’t see anyone because all I needed was prescriptions to be renewed every now and then and I knew “my” Rheumatologist would do that for me even if I was not seeing him in the clinic, or at least I thought he would. I did reach out to him to let him know I would not be able to see him because of the cost and he understood and recommended seeing a Rheumatologist where I was currently going for a hand/wrist surgery. I also found out he would be retiring in July 2021 so eventually, I would need to see someone new anyway. I asked someone, I can’t say who, as they probably should not have given me their opinion, but I asked “if I was your Mother, who would you refer me to?” and they named a female physician. I went on the company’s webpage and read all about her and knew she had been trained at Duke, and knowing my current Duke Rheumatologist knew her and recommended her, I decided it was a good choice. But even then, I just did not want to see anyone else. It was complicated to get an appointment, they insisted they needed my Duke record. I asked the young man in appointments was that absolutely necessary as my record was most likely larger than a set of encyclopedias. Yes, I know things are now digital, but I recalled many years ago going to Duke for an appointment and the lady checking me in said she could not find my folder as she glanced around the desk. There was a folder, that was at least, 6-inches thick, if not 8, sitting in the rack, and when she pulled it out, she looked at it and looked at me and said, “wow, you are too young for a record this thick, I didn’t think this would be yours.” Yes, I, unfortunately, had a lot of visits and hospitalizations, way too young for someone my age at that time, but thank God, I had a wonderful rheumatologist. I was defeated when I tried multiple times to try to get my medical record and gave up on a new rheumatologist. I did figure out through trial and error how to at least print out my last 2 visit notes and took them with me on a follow-up appointment with my hand surgeon. I explained my dilemma to him, and he assisted me with making an appointment and here we are today.
There was more than once that I questioned if I was making the right decision, maybe I should just see a different rheumatologist at Duke, at least my record was there and I didn’t have to completely start over, but I kept going back to how nice everyone was that I had met at what was once Triangle Orthopedics, now known as EmergeOrtho, and my heart just kept telling me it was the right decision.
So today was the day that I made the drive to Durham to meet my new Rheumatologist. I was not committed and if I did not like her, I would just not go back, simple as that. As I drove down, I prayed I had made the right decision and as I sat in the waiting room, I was second-guessing myself, you know 5-minutes in the waiting room seems like 30. I was then called back and the lady who looked vaguely familiar, said I am Joyce. It was not until she pulled her mask down and smiled, that I realized no wonder she looked familiar, it was “my Joyce.” We went to high school; had sleepovers and she even sang at my wedding. A sigh of relief came over me as this was a sign, I had made the right decision, as I immediately felt at ease, even though I sure hated she had to know my weight. But the icing on the cake was when I met my new Rheumatologist. She handed me a tissue as I shed tears telling her the story of why I had to change rheumatologist, she was sincere, asked about my journey, laughed at my jokes, and though stricter in her expectations of me than my Rheumatologist, I could tell beyond a reasonable doubt I had made the right decision. I will miss “my” Dr. Caldwell and even as think about this, the tears flow again, but I know I am in great hands with my care, for years to come.
If you don’t have the perfect Rheumatologist, don’t give up, pray about it and ask for recommendations from others as I can assure you they are out there, I have been truly blessed, and I pray you will be too!