What do you do when the doctor is wrong?

I hadn’t used an urgent care clinic in fifteen years, but Friday evening I encountered what I determined to be a non-emergency situation that maybe shouldn’t wait until Monday for treatment.

As the night wore on, I was using the bathroom more and more frequently.  It got to the point that there would only be a few drops, yet before I could get back in bed I felt the need to go again.  It was annoying, but not an emergency.  After a few hours, my lower back started to hurt.  Also annoying, but still not an emergency.  Deciding that I must need more fluids, I drank a glass of water.  After that, every time I used the bathroom, I would also vomit.  Ewww.  I drank more water because I didn’t want to get dehydrated and (not to be overly graphic), upchucking water was preferrable to dry heaves.

Three hours later, I typed “low urine output and back pain” into a search engine and learned that possible causes included cystitis, sepsis, prostate cancer, end-stage kidney disease, and kidney stones.  My symptoms didn’t match cystitis or sepsis, prostate cancer was easily ruled out, and given my recent lab results, so was end-stage kidney disease.  That left kidney stones or something Dr. Google didn’t reveal.  Since kidney stones are a possible side effect of one of my meds, I figured that was most likely what was going on.  Reassured that it wasn’t an emergency, I let my husband continue sleeping.

And, although it wasn’t an emergency, I knew I’d be significantly dehydrated if I spent the next thirty hours vomiting.  Googling “urgent care clinics,” I learned that the nearest one was quite a distance away (and in the opposite direction as my family doctor).  I love living out in the country, but sometimes there are disadvantages – like taking an hour to get medical help.

Once morning arrived, my dear husband drove me and my bucket (so I didn’t make a mess of his car) into the city.  The PA asked questions, did an exam, and told me that I needed to go to the ER.  It sounded to her like kidney stones, so the hospital would need to do some imaging and lab work.  She was also concerned that I was getting dehydrated.  How ironic that the PA had the exact same thoughts I’d had, but I’d chosen the wrong place to get help.

At the hospital, things got weird.  The doctor focussed on my vomiting, which I had been convinced was only a reaction to the pain in my back.  He ordered x-rays, not a CT, and also blood work and another urine dip.  The nurse went to bat for me and called the urgent care clinic for results instead of repeating the dip, however the doctor later insisted on repeating that test.  Eventually he decided that mtx made me more susceptible to infection, so told me I had “stomach flu” and sent me home with a prescription for an anti-nausea medicine.

Saturday afternoon I wore a path between the bathroom and the sofa.  No matter what the ER doc said, feeling the need to urinate three times every five minutes is not the stomach flu. When bedtime arrived, I took feldene, acetaminophen, and more zofran, and slept like a log for three hours.  At 2 a.m. I awoke in agony.  The back pain had moved to my side, and it felt like someone was stabbing me.

Eventually I was able to crawl to the bathroom where I huddled, moaning.  There was no way I could wait until Monday to see my family physician.  The pain was excruciating.  My husband got me another zofran tablet, and also dug through the medicine cabinet to find morphine left from my surgery two years ago.  The zofran didn’t work, but the morphine lowered the pain from a 9 to an 8, and we headed back to the ER.

This time there was a different doctor who explained that although people with kidney stones are usually agitated and move around a lot (I just wanted to curl up in a ball and die), he thought that’s what I had.  He waited patiently while I puked my guts out, then did an exam and sent me for a CT scan. Testing proved he was right.  The PA was right.  I was right.  What on earth was that first ER doc thinking?  I have a kidney stone, not the stomach flu.

Now I have different prescriptions and am waiting for this stone to pass.  And I’m wondering:  What could I have done differently?  What should I have said when doc #1 patronizingly tried to convince me that I had a simple case of gastroenteritis?  That wrong diagnosis cost me unneeded x-rays, a second trip to the ER, lost sleep, worry for my family, and a ton of extra time.  I suspect that in the future I’ll be asking doctors lots more questions.  Even though I haven’t been to medical school, I won’t be as accepting of a diagnosis that doesn’t sound quite right.  What’s the solution?  How can a person get good care without seeming obnoxious?

Life-threatening situations are what I consider emergencies:  heart attack, stroke, blow to the head followed by loss of consciousness, etc.  There are other instances in which medical care is needed, but nobody’s going to die if it takes a few hours instead of a few minutes to obtain help.  Hospital emergency departments are for emergencies.  Doctor’s offices are for other situations.  In my opinion, urgent care centers are for times that the doctor’s office is closed and the non-emergency situation can’t wait until the doctor’s office will be open.


8 thoughts on “What do you do when the doctor is wrong?

  1. Aaahh, WarmSocks, your experience sounds so awful. I am so sorry you had to suffer like this and then receive the wrong diagnosis on top of it. It is really difficult to get the right care regardless of what you say sometimes. Every time my concerns get brushed aside, I have to remind myself to trust my gut–as you did by seeking a second opinion. We certainly know our bodies best, don’t we? Praying that stone passes with lightening speed.

  2. I agree with Kelli. Listen to your gut. Have someone be your advocate. I know when I am not feeling well I am not always in the best place to be my own advocate so my partner steps in. No one gets in her way. I can tell her what I want or think and she gets folks to hop to. If a doctor doesn’t listen, get your advocate to get you another doctor. I was someone’s advocate in an emergency room recently and they were going to discharge her and I knew she wasn’t well. I insisted they take another look at her and, thank goodness, she vomited on cue. They admitted her and she ended up being in the hospital for four days! So, be your own advocate! I am sorry you are going through this.

  3. Ouch to the kidney stone. I had one of those years ago and at one point was ready to have them take me to the top of the hospital and throw me off. I hope it passes soon. I can only imagine how infuriating it must have been to feel so awful and to not be heard by the doctor. It is a shame how some doctors pre judge a situation and in doing so miss the real problem

  4. Seems like you did everything right, Socks, but you ended up with a wooden-headed ER doc. Could you have argued more? Maybe, but you were feeling awful and we do tend to believe our doctors know their stuff.

    I’m sorry you’re feeling so awful and that it took so much time and misery to finally get an accurate diagnosis and treatment. In the end, we’re all human, and fallible. Even harried ER docs. Here’s hoping you’re feeling better very soon and that the kidney stone will pass without further trouble. Sending hugs, too. 😉

  5. What a horrible sitation! Glad that it was finally figured out and I hope that the stones pass. I had this happen about 10 years ago and it was the most agonizing pain ever experienced!

  6. I get it. A few years back I still had a corporate job. I was having lower back pain on one side. Potty trips constantly. It kept me up all night. I paced the floor, couldn’t lay down, couldn’t sit down. I had to keep moving. Hubby and I worked for the same company so he drove to work the next day – oh yeah, he drove to work after I puked my guts out. Got to work and immediately went into a private office that had a sofa and laid down. Called the doc and got an appointment. Diagnosis – ‘you have lower back pain from sitting at your desk with poor posture.’ (Are you kidding?) Sent me home with a muscle relaxer. He did have me stop by the lab. A urine sample produced some really funny looking stuff floating around. They called to say I also had a UTI. One week later I birthed two kidney stones at work. I also wondered what I could have said that would have resulted in a correct diagnosis. Hope it resolves very soon!

  7. How disheartening that so many people have had similar symptoms brushed aside. 😦

    Thank you, all, for your kind words and support. I can do without that pain ever again. Passed the stone Thursday (way beyond the 24-48 hours they said to expect).

  8. How awful. I get stones a lot or at least I use too. Drink lemonade from concentrate, it helps break up stones and cleanses the urianary tract, hope you are feeling better!!

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