Adrian looked around the waiting room, noting that he was easily the youngest person there. Most of the people sitting in the room were easily a decade older than him, probably more, and that all of them were women. This made him embarrassed. He knew that most people seeing a rheumatologist were women and probably older, but seeing it in person was different.
Feeling uneasy while waiting
Adrian tried to ignore his embarrassment by looking at the decorations on the wall, which was all still life photographs. He had to suppress a snort, of course that’s what was on the walls. Just like every doctors office, there has to be boring, framed photos of nothing interesting.
“Adrian Thompson,” the nurse called.
Standing up slowly, Adrian followed the nurse to the exam room in the back. Even as he followed her, he couldn’t keep up and had to walk significantly slower than her because the pain in his joints was so bad. He immediately sat down in the lone chair in the corner when he reached the room, ignoring the exam table.
“What brings you in today?” the nurse asked.
“I’ve been having pain and swelling in my joints, muscle pain, fatigue, and stiffness when I wake up in the morning or if I move after I’ve stayed in the same position for too long” Adrian replied.
She wrote everything down, looked at him quizzically, and said the doctor would see him soon. Adrian looked around the room after she left. He noted several arthritis posters, a osteoporosis poster, and some three dimensional models of joints on the counter.
30 minutes later, the rheumatologist, Dr. Erikson, entered the room. He read the notes that the nurse had made and asked what brought him in. Adrian repeated exactly the same thing he had said to the nurse.
“Hop onto the exam table,” he said.
Adrian flinched several times when Dr. Erikson pressed on points that hurt, then ordered some blood tests and offered to prescribe him painkillers for the intervening days until he saw him again.
“No, thank you,” Adrian said, “I am an addict in recovery, I have 60 days clean and sober today, and I don’t want to risk going back into active addiction.”
“Good for you getting sober,” Dr. Erikson said. And with that, he left the room, telling Adrian to make another appointment in 30 days.
The following 30 days were agonizingly painful and long. Adrian desperately wanted to know what was wrong, because something was obviously wrong. The constant pain was something he didn’t think he’d ever get used to, almost worse than the pain was the fatigue that was making it hard to be a functional human being. Adrian could barely remember what it felt like to wake up feeling rested.
Returning to the doctor’s office, Adrian waited an hour just in the waiting room just to wait another hour in the exam room. When Dr. Erikson finally, finally, showed up, Adrian became hopeful that he might finally have an answer. He was disappointed.
“All your labs came back negative, there is nothing physically wrong with you,” Dr. Erikson told him.
“So what happens now?” asked Adrian.
“Here is the business card of a good psychiatrist in the area. I’d recommend talking to her and getting on the proper medication” the doctor told him.
Adrian was so upset he couldn’t speak. Even a doctor, the best rheumatologist in a 50 mile radius, thought he was making up the pain and various symptoms he was experiencing. Adrian numbly walked out of the office and got into his car. When he closed the car door, he finally broke down. He wasn’t crazy, was he? He didn’t think so. But either way, he pulled out the psychiatrist’s card and made an appointment.
Continuing the search for awnsers
Over the next year, Adrian searched for an answer. He saw the psychiatrist, who referred him to a therapist and a different rheumatologist, that rheumatologist referred him to a different psychiatrist, who told him to see another rheumatologist. He didn’t have anyone actually believe he was actually in pain until he finally gave up on specialists and saw his general practitioner.
Adrian told his general practitioner his symptoms, telling him about all the struggles to find an answer, and he watched the doctor’s eyes light up. Adrian knew then that he finally found a doctor who completely believed him, and he was ecstatic.
“Here’s an order for more blood tests and an order for getting your hands and feet x-rayed,” Dr. Johnson said, handing Adrian the stated orders, “Come back in two weeks and we’ll review the results.”
Adrian immediately went to get his blood drawn, and two weeks later he was back at the office, eagerly awaiting the results.
“Adrian Thompson,” the nurse called. Adrian got up and followed the nurse into the exam room, and 20 minutes later Dr. Johnson came in.
He spent five minutes looking at the results from Adrian’s tests, and then looked at Adrian.
“I know what’s wrong,” Dr. Johnson told Adrian.
“What?” Adrian asked eager to finally have an answer.
“I have two diagnoses for you. The first is about the joint pain. You have no markers for it, but you have what’s called seronegative rheumatoid arthritis, based on the high amount of inflammation and the damage to the joints in your hands and feet. The second is related to the muscle pain, and there’s no specific test for this, but I believe you also have fibromyalgia.”
Those were exactly what Adrian thought he had from his research, but having confirmation was both a relief and a weight on his shoulders.
“So where do we go from here?” asked Adrian.
“I will give you a copy of the results and write a diagnosis on a prescription pad, and I’ll give you a card for a rheumatologist. He will know better on what medications to put you on, but I’ll give you a couple of things to treat the conditions while you wait to see the rheumatologist.”
Finally getting a diagnosis
Adrian went home in a daze. As soon as he got home he called and made an appointment with the recommended rheumatologist. With that done, Adrian got back into his car and began the hour and a half drive to the beach, the place that always seemed to calm him. Since it was still winter and he was in Washington, Adrian made sure to take a heavy coat with him. He tried not to think much on the drive, and to appreciate the beauty of the forest around him.
When he reached the beach, he put on the coat and began to walk along to beach right on the edge where the forest ended and the beach began. The beauty of the place, with the rock cliffs in the middle of the ocean that somehow had trees on top the constant green of the forest, and the drift wood that had washed up on shore. This place always brought Adrian a sense of calm. Adrian got to be alone with his thoughts since it was nearly deserted because it was no longer tourist season.
As Adrian walked, he thought about how much his life would change because of the two diagnoses he was just given. He didn’t know if he would be able to continue to work at his goals, if he would be able to work as a nurse like he was studying for. He didn’t know if he could continue to live in this beautiful area, because the weather always hurt his joints. But most of all, Adrian thought about how scared he was about the future. He knew what advanced rheumatoid arthritis could do to joints. He had seen the pictures online. Adrian even let out a couple tears as rain began to fall, counting on the rain to hide his tears from anyone who might look at him.
Adrian knew his life was about to change, and as he got back into his car to begin his drive home, he tried to just be grateful to finally have an answer after over a year of searching and allow the future to turn out however it’s meant to.
Chris Thoman is a 23 years old, college student, and lives with several chronic illnesses. He loves meeting and talking to new people, especially those who struggle with similar things as him. Follow him on Instagram