How Doctors Can Dash Your Hopes

By Crystal Lindell, Columnist

I saw a new specialist this month. A neurosurgeon.

It didn’t go great. In fact, it sucked. He ordered some MRIs, which all came back fine, just like they always do. And then he created a treatment plan that literally included losing weight and not wearing bras.


He had come highly recommended by a good friend and I was hoping he would be willing to try something different for me. I wasn’t sure exactly what, but I had the vague idea that he might be able to cut my nerve. But, he said that was way too risky and wouldn’t even consider it.

Then he suggested a bunch of horrible medications that I’ve l already tried, like Lyrica and gabapentin and pain patches.

And came up with his brilliant idea of not wearing bras.

My pain had become much more manageable, but over the last three or four months it has spiked. A lot. Leaving me with too many days where I can’t get out of bed, no matter how many pain pills I take.

I had long ago given up on seeking out new specialists. Two unsuccessful trips to the Mayo Clinic, multiple university hospitals and thousands of dollars in medical bills tend to dampen even the most enthusiastic patient’s drive to find new treatments.

But the pain was coming back, and after recently increasing my opioid dose, I was reluctant to try to go up any more. And so, I figured I would just try one more guy. One more doctor. And just, see.

I forgot how completely devastating it is when you get your hopes up, only to have them crushed.

In the back of my mind, I confess I had let myself get a little hopeful. This doctor is known for being open to experimental treatments, and I thought he might be willing to try some new approaches. And I think, deep down, I was holding on to this as my last out. As the one thing out there that might still be able to help me. The one thing that I hadn’t tried yet.

But as I sat in his office, going through four years of medical records with him, explaining everything I had been through and everything I had tried, only to have him blame my bra, I remembered why I had given up on trying new doctors.

And as I sat in the MRI machine for a full hour, getting every angle and holding my breath for various shots, I remembered how awful all the medical tests can be, and how heartbreaking it is when your very real pain doesn’t show up on any scans. How hard it is to remind yourself that you’re not crazy. That you are actually sick. And it doesn’t matter what the MRI results show, your pain is real.

When I left my second appointment with him, I got in my car and cried. I cried because I felt like I was completely out of options. I cried because he honestly thought the reason I was in debilitating pain was my weight. I cried because I didn’t know what the next step was. I cried because I didn’t feel like he believed me. And I cried because I was angry at myself for letting my heart get its hopes up.

There’s a reason pain patients get mad at every well-meaning friend who has a cousin whose dog was saved with a new medication that they think you should try.

There’s a reason we all get visibly angry when someone tells us we should see the doctor that their mom’s brother’s baby saw.

Because if we don’t get mad, if we give in, we end up getting our hopes up. We start to think getting better might be a real possibility. But most of the time, our hopes are dashed, exactly as we feared they would be.

And the only thing worse than chronic pain, is having chronic pain and being hopeless.

Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She loves Taco Bell, watching "Burn Notice" episodes on Netflix and Snicker's Bites. She has had intercostal neuralgia since February 2013.

Crystal writes about it on her blog, “The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.”

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.