Healthcare and Being Your Own Advocate Part 1: A Personal Story

I found out today that I need to have surgery.

I was livid when I found out. This was something that could have been prevented. This was something that could have been resolved years ago. I noticed the signs, and I reported it to the professionals. They did nothing to follow-up. They expressed no care.

It still certainly isn’t nearly as bad as it could be. Given the description above, it sounds potentially serious. Maybe you are thinking about heart disease, or cancer, or some sort of chronic illness.

In this instance, it is a case of a root canal gone wrong. Stick with me here, I do have a point.

About 16 years ago, in the drama and trauma that I lovingly call pre-adolescence, I had a nasty habit of not eating in front of my peers at school. Whether you want to call that anxiety, an eating disorder, a phase- whatever- it took its toll on my body. One particularly long and horribly humid day after school, I came home and took a huge swig of soda. I remember gulping it down, and suddenly doubling over with pain in my grandmother’s kitchen. I saw a white flash, I don’t remember the rest. According to my grandmother, I fell flat on my face, unresponsive. When I finally woke up, she was trying to drag me by my feet into the living room. I had an abrasion on my forehead and a fissure in my tooth.

“Show me your teeth.” -Lady Gaga
Picture desecrated in pixlr-o-matic for Android

Damn you, adolescence. Damn you.

Within that year I had a root canal. I was seeing an orthodontist and evaluating the need for braces, and he decided to do the root canal.

Fast forward to 10 years later. Time is ticking on my parents’ insurance, and I am being told that I need to get a crown because that fissure just might crack wide open after all these years. I find the closest dentist who takes my insurance and I explain my situation.

“Yeah. We can do that.”

I should have known something was wrong when they were trying to match the crown’s color to my natural teeth. “We can’t match your color directly. It’s either going to be a shade darker or lighter.”

“Really? Are you serious?” I replied with that sort of young adult indignation that early-20-somethings are known for.

The dentist’s assistant clarified, “No one could. We all work on the same scales for color matching.”

The red flags should have been waving. Did I pay attention? No. “This was all very inconvenient,” I thought, instead.

The crown is placed. It hurts like hell. That doesn’t seem right.

I go in for another cleaning, and point out the pain. “Well, I don’t see anything wrong. There is no reason it should be hurting.” I complain 2 more times that year. I get the same offhanded response, which seemingly suggests “Go away you college-town brat. We have real patients with real issues to see.”

Two years later I go for another cleaning with a dentist in a more well to-do town. I’m finally on my own insurance, and I’m tired of the pain. I’m also tired of my tooth being half a shade lighter than the others. “I don’t see anything wrong, here. There is no reason this should be hurting. But we can see how the shade difference is annoying. Let’s talk about that.”

Another year’s cleaning passes and the pain goes unaddressed. “There’s no reason for it.”

Let’s skip to two days ago. I go in to a cosmetic dentistry, and have completely given up on finding a resolution for the pain. I want to simply get the crown replaced so that the minor difference in my teeth goes unnoticeable (to even me, since I’m apparently the only person who notices it). I explain about my concerns with the crown, and as an aside I mention the pain. The dentist- no, the COSMETIC dentist- takes a look and says, “You know, I don’t see a reason for the pain. I’m not saying you aren’t experiencing it, though. Just to be safe, I want to refer you to an endodontist. He’ll be able to pinpoint what the problem is if there is something wrong.”

Wow. My cosmetic dentist listened to me.

Today I had my appointment with the endodontist. I expected to be told “there’s no reason for the pain,” and be sent on my merry way. In fact, I planned accordingly.

They took their little x-rays. I thought, “What a waste of time, and a whole lotta radiation being pointed at my head for nothing.”

Dr. Endodontist entered the room and within seconds of looking at the x-rays he declares, “Well, I have good news. We will at least be able to save your tooth.”

“What?”

“We have a problem.”

He explained that I have an abscess in my bone structure that has been 16 years in the making. The root canal was put in incorrectly and now the abscess was interfering with my bone structure. “If nothing is done, you will lose your front several teeth. It has progressed so we can’t just go in a fix the root canal. We have to go in above and to the side of your teeth.” He explained the procedure, which sounds pretty gory to me (and later to my family and friends). He even drew at least a dozen
diagrams so that I was completely sure of what was going on. Then we scheduled the surgery.

I left thinking, “All of these professionals. All of these jerks who would never ever listen to me. And my cosmetic dentist was the one who referred me here. COSMETIC. Those other bastards… I went to them specifically for this. And here I am. This could have been prevented.”

I swear. I blame. I fume.

Then I stop. It hits me.

I’m as much responsible for this as anyone else.
First, I was the one who wouldn’t eat in front of other kids, resulting in my passing out. I was the one who personalized their statements about eating. These were statements they made about everyone who ate in the cafeteria. I let that influence my body image not only that semester, but on and off throughout my life.

And even beyond that, I never truly advocated for myself in the dental world. I allowed myself to be dis-empowered by the professionals’ lacking consideration. Not only that, but I returned to them. I stopped pushing if they even began to push back. I gave up. I didn’t want to question their expertise. I didn’t want to deal with the confrontation.

I didn’t want to be my own advocate. And each time I went in to speak to the professionals, I really needed to be my own advocate.

My health. My life.

My voice.

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2 thoughts on “Healthcare and Being Your Own Advocate Part 1: A Personal Story

  1. This is very true. Also, while doctors are supposedly more educated, any decision is up to you. You do not have to do what the doctor tells you. Say they want you to get a surgery, or they want you to get a vaccine, or take some strange medication, you do not have to comply. It is your body after all. Mind you, hopefully they have your best intentions in mind, but you are the person who gets the final say, and you do not have to do anything at all if you don’t want to. Personally before I would take any medication, vaccine, or even surgery, I would hope that you would be given the time to research it. If they wont even explain possible side affects, or issues that may arise, I would not use that “professional” and move on to someone who would work with me, to help me understand, and would give me time to research anything before I have to give them a final decision. After all, it is your body, and you should be able to do with it as you wish.

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