How I Found the Right Rheumatologist for Me
This article is part of the My Life With RA series, featuring stories of unique experiences with rheumatoid arthritis. Learn more about their travels here.
By Ryn Millican
I love my rheumatologist. He is kind and knowledgeable. And he is patient. He spends time with me, listens to me and answers all my questions. He knows the drugs and their side effects, and he is aware of the treatments in clinical trials. It encourages and motivates healthy habits like meditation and healthy eating. He even tolerates my inquiries about the latest culinary trends or the topical oil a friend brought back from a backpacking trip through the jungles of South America. He is my lawyer and my partner in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
It was not my first rheumatologist.
The first rheumatologist I saw was almost the opposite of my current doctor. She spoke for almost an hour straight in medical jargon full of acronyms, Latin prefixes, and words I couldn’t begin to spell or pronounce. All of this after she started the conversation with a flat hello and the welcoming phrase, “My goal is to keep you out of a wheelchair.” What?! I was there because my hands were aching and abnormally swollen, and we started by talking about a wheelchair?
My husband was with me taking notes and asking questions, but he sat there with a dazed gaze, unable to keep up with lightning speed the review of blood work, lab tests, and options. treatment. We were drowning in the words: disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs; methotrexate; leflunomide; life conditions; permanent damage to internal organs and joints; Enbrel, Humira, Orencia; and side effects including vision loss, liver failure, bone marrow suppression and severe lung infections. We were scared and confused, then I was asked to make a decision about the treatment. I didn’t know what to do and it was clear that this doctor was not going to help me make the decision. She was full of knowledge but lacked compassion and the ability to help me connect with that knowledge. I knew she wasn’t the partner I needed in my PR journey.
I immediately started looking for a new rheumatologist.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that I will live with for the rest of my life and I knew I needed a doctor who would patiently guide me through the steps of its management. Fortunately, thanks to my family and friends, I was able to find this person. I am grateful to have recognized that the first rheumatologist was not the right one for me, and even more grateful to now have a rheumatologist working with me to manage my condition.
If you are looking for a rheumatologist, here are my tips for finding a good one:
1. Trust your instincts. It is difficult to listen to your inner voice against a medical professional. The first doctor I saw knew a lot more about RA than I did, and I knew I needed a specialist, so at first I fought the idea of finding a new rheumatologist. After a few more visits I knew I had to listen to my instincts and find someone new. I encourage you to have confidence in yourself to know what is best for you!
2. Bring a buddy. Invite your spouse, best friend, or trusted colleague to come to a doctor’s appointment with you to assess the doctor and your interaction with him. The early stages of RA are scary and confusing as you are in pain and overwhelmed by the severity of the disease. So it is helpful to have a reliable source to weigh in and help you decide if your doctor is right for you. They can offer advice with a clear head and also keep you in check when needed.
3. Ask for help. It’s hard to find a rheumatologist, so I enlisted the help of friends and family. I interviewed my GP, my friends in the pharmaceutical industry who use rheumatologists, and my friends in the medical field. I also asked my close friends and family to ask their doctors who they would recommend. I compiled a list, researched the doctors, and picked one that I thought was compatible. People want to help you, so ask for their help in finding a rheumatologist.
Ryn Millican lives in Raleigh, NC, with her husband, son and dog, Weezie. She has been learning to balance her professional and personal life with rheumatoid arthritis for the past five years. Through a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, she is able to maintain an active life with minimal disruption. Ryn’s passions include travel, the encouragement of his paladins and Tarheels, and all things politics.
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