"This is not fibromyalgia." - Dr. Diala Jaber
I had about a 3 month reprieve after that first flare before the next one reared it's ugly face. Spring had come, I threw my sister a great bridal shower, I was back at work and all seemed right with my world, until...
About two weeks before the wedding, at which I was to be the Maid of Honor, I awoke with pain in my knee. The fear that gripped me when I rose out of bed and felt that unmistakeable swollen tightness can be likened to that moment in a horror film when you learn the psycho killer isn't dead after all. A wave of terror came over me that I'll never forget. Ready or not, I was back in the ring taking swings at a faceless, nameless, opponent that had no problem landing blows on me. I needed a trainer, my very own "Mick" but in a lab coat, not sweats, and with extensive knowledge on "unexplained pain".
Whatever this was that was happening to me, was different this time. It came and went from day to day and varied in intensity. At times my fingers and toes were so swollen they looked like sausages, but nothing else bothered me. Other days there were no visible signs but the joint pain was show stopping. Those were the days I dreaded most. Those "but you don't look sick" days, when I felt everyone suspected I was either lazy, a wimp or crazy. You can call me crazy but don't ever, ever call me a lazy wimp. My Dad didn't nickname me "Nails" because I liked a good mani/pedi. I'm a tough cookie, so it ate at my core that people might be seeing me in this light, as a weakling who probably just wanted a vacation. More stress, worse symptoms, time to see a different doctor.
I must have made and canceled three appointments before I actually went to see Dr. Jaber. I was NOT going into that office without at least one sausage finger, I wasn't! So, I kept pushing it off until payday came and I was a freakin' Italian feast. Everything was swollen and as odd as this may sound, I was thrilled. I gave her a brief summary of what had transpired recently, leaving out my last words to Numbnuts, but not the stinging words he left me with. She took one look at me and said "this is not fibromyalgia and this is not all in your head." If ever I wanted to kiss another woman on the mouth it was then, but I contained myself and asked "what is it?" Of course she couldn't possibly know right then, but she did have a very definite answer as to who I needed to see. Would you believe she referred me to Dr. Killpatient? No, I'm totally kidding! She referred me to Dr. Michael Repice. Having worked in a medical group for so many years I had heard his name and good things about him. Apparently so had many other people because it took 3 months to get an appointment. She offered up another rheumatologist, but I decided to wait and how glad I am that I did.
Those three months waiting were riddled with angst. I was miserable all of the time, more so when I was showing no symptoms. I wanted to be an absolute mess when this guy saw me and the truth was, most days I looked and felt fine. I can't imagine wishing for a flare now, but at the time it made perfect sense. I couldn't face another rejection. I was obsessed with making myself sick as appointment day drew near. As it turned out, I was quite successful.
How long to you think is reasonable to wait in a doctor's office for an appointment? One hour? Two? How about four? Yup, four hours. Two and a half of which were with a waiting room full of the same people. Nobody ever went in. They didn't call anyone's name and no new patients came in after me. I started to wonder if this was some kind of new group therapy thing that I wasn't aware of. The kind where we all go in the room together and talk about what ails us like they do in AA. Whatever, I was up for anything I just NEEDED to see this man...today. Then the unthinkable happened. They started telling people they needed to reschedule their appointments. My heart sank to my swollen feet. I was the last person left in the waiting room and his assistant approached me saying exactly the same phrase she had to everyone before: "Dr. Repice is very sorry, he's with a patient right now that is going to require much more of his time than he thought. We'll have to reschedule you."
For a woman who's claim to fame is being "tough as nails" and "no wimp", I broke down like a little girl who dropped her ice cream cone. I begged, I pleaded, I showed my swollen appendages to his assistant and offered to wait until midnight if I had to. With that beautiful no-nonsense face that I've grown to love so much, she thought for a moment and said "wait here." Trying to pull myself together and preparing to be told to go home, I couldn't help but laugh at myself for those theatrics. How embarrassing. But whatever, it worked! "You'll have to wait, but he will see you next."
"Next" came an hour and a half later and the good doctor everyone raved about, walked into the exam room like a lunatic. He slammed the door, threw down my new chart and looked me over. What the hell? He looked at my hands and face, stopped and looked in my eyes. The first words he ever spoke to me were these: "I can help you, but you have to let me help you. If you aren't going to trust that I know how to help you, and won't follow my advice, you've wasted your time waiting for me." So choked up with mixed emotions, all I could say was "please help me." Again with the tears, what a wuss...
I would find out later that one of his patients was refusing to follow his advice and was going to die. He felt he could save her if she would just listen and he spent all that time with her trying to convince her of this. Now THIS man was a doctor...MY doctor. :)