A few years ago I had a contrast CT scan on my chest to check for blood clots. The hospital required me to stop by Urgent Care for an IV needle to be inserted, and then I drove myself to the scan. I then had to change into the gown with this needle stuck in my arm. At this point the tech asked me if had ever given birth. Apparently if I had ever gone through childbirth I wouldn’t be crying about this.
I am a whiny baby. Pray for my husband.
Today a surgeon is going to tear into my flesh and remove a tiny bone in my foot that is dead, dying or broken. It needs to come out.
I have been in pain for nearly 2 years. It took 18 months for me to get a diagnosis. Small town healthcare let me down again and again in this process. I saw the first doctor at four months. It’s a sports injury. Push through it I told myself. What I didn’t know was that injuries greater than a few weeks are no longer considered acute, but chronic. Chronic pain doesn’t just cure itself it requires intervention. I didn’t know that I should know that. I was naive enough to trust the medical professional. The first doctor I went to told me I was fine and sent me off with generic anti-inflammatories. Nothing came of it.
I did everything I could come up with to self treat having no idea that it was all in vain. I saw the second medical professional nearly a year later. He is a chiropractor. He took X-Rays and began to educate me on my anatomy. He educated me about chronic pain, about these two tiny bones called sesamoids, and about how unlikely it is for an old ligament tear to ever be whole again. While the chiropractor acknowledged that the injury was out of his league, he is – in a sense – my hero because he educated me. He also led me to my first clue of what my condition was by making a suggestion: taping the toe. I googled how to tape my toe and here is where I got my answer. KT Tape had a youtube video about taping for Turf Toe. Turf Toe? What on earth is that? I googled some more. Holy cow! Those are my symptoms! This is exactly me! This is my pain!
And so I diagnosed myself.
I was still so burned out on local healthcare I had no idea what to do with my revelation. So I just sat on my self-diagnosis.
At the 18 month mark I finally found my answer. A podiatrist set up a booth at a health fair. Free consultations! Poor guy had no idea what a force he was meeting that day. “I have turf toe. What are you going to do about it?” After I picked his brain for at least half an hour it was determined that I needed an MRI for absolute confirmation. Otherwise it would be more guess and check.
The MRI showed that I have two torn ligaments, mild arthritis and possible bone death in those two tiny bones. When I got the results from the doctor I picked his brain for two hours! Poor guy. (He charged me twice for that visit.) Here all the information the chiropractor told me was personalized to me. At 18 months that ligament could never, ever be the same. Those little bones are diseased, and I was in a chronic pain condition from inflammation.
While that doctor is very nice he is still wet behind the ears. I also had a tough time communicating with him that being physically active meant everything to me. My whole social life was built around friends I met at the gym. I am one of those people. I’m only 31. I need my life back. I have shed tears over my inability to participate with my friends in my favorite activities. This doctor clearly did not get it. He explained that nothing he could do would restore my level of activity. This was out of his league. I will forever be grateful that he educated me about my specific condition. He gave me the right “buzzwords” to find my answers. My sesamoid bones were damaged and my plantar plate torn.
Finally, there was only two questions remaining. What can be done and who can do it?
Here’s a couple tips I have learned about finding an orthopedist (or any doctor for that matter).
First, find a professional athlete that has your injury and go to his doctor! These doctors are accessible to you and to me. The Phoenix Suns are famous in the pro sports community for having a very low injury rate. (My husband told me that). Their head doctor is accessible to me and to you. (Dr. Carter doesn’t happen to specialize in my condition though.)
Second, Google “the best orthopedic X doctor” and professional associations have lists, awards, accolades, etc. This is how I found my doctor at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado. I was going down that list looking at each doctor when I found Dr. Thomas Clanton. Dr. Clanton has been researching turf toe for decades. He lectures on plantar plate repairs and he treats professional athletes. His reputation is built on getting active people active again. This was the doctor for me and he is only 9 hours away.
Third, if you can, make the sacrifice. Think outside the box. I am asked all the time “Why are you going to Vail?” I’m going to Vail because I’m 31 years old and I want my life back. It’s still true that old ligament damage is hard to repair. Dr. Clanton cannot change that fact but he has given us what no one else has…confidence. Going to Vail will cost us (a lot) more due to travel expenses, fortunately most of it is tax free with a health savings account. We will have to make the trip several times, but it’s all worth it trusting we are in great hands.
Fourth, learn what questions to ask. After everything, when it comes time to go under the knife we had just two final questions: “How often do you perform this procedure?” and “What are your outcomes?” In my case it’s 30-50 times per year and greater than 85% success.
Fifth, know that better than standard healthcare exists. My first doctor barely touched my toe. Not much to see anyway I thought. Dr. Clanton examined my feet standing up, sitting down and compared them to each other. He measured range of motion and pain spots. When I’ve had questions I could call his office and speak to a right hand man and get specific answers. His staff is composed of educated medical professionals to carry out most aspects of his clinic. I called to ask a question thinking I was speaking to a receptionist to later find out she was a nurse practitioner. Dr. Clanton suggested a peer nearer to us but we couldn’t get past the office lackey asking me how to spell things.
If you can get one thing out of reading this please let it be this: Take control of YOUR healthcare. Thanks to the doctors that educated me. It’s too bad they couldn’t also help me, but knowledge truly is power.
I am scared and I am a whiny baby, but I finally have hope that I can get my life back.
Read more about how I took control of my hormone troubles at I’d Rather Eat a Cookie.