Here in the UK, our expectations of treatment for ME/CFS are somewhat lower than some other countries. We are still routinely offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and/or Graded Exercise Therapy with little attention paid to physical symptoms. This, of course, angers me and the more I hear of the injustices served out to fellow sufferers the more angry I get.
Today I reflected on that sense of anger almost making me give up. I keep very up to date with all the advocacy groups and, whilst I'd never recommend burying your head in the sand and ignoring all that is wrong out there, I do wonder whether I need to spend a little less time focusing on what is wrong and more time focusing on what can be turned into positives. This update will address two areas linked to the theme.
Firstly, I visited my GP today (primary care physician, I guess they'd be called in other countries). I had, after being referred to the 'ME/CFS Centre' and not finding much of value there, almost given up on the medical fraternity and decided it was pointless dragging my exhausted body to appointments with doctors if nothing was going to be treated. However, I decided to give my GP one more try as I knew he was a guy who generally listened and took my opinions onboard.
So, I spent a large part of this week nervously preparing. I had booked a double appointment so that, in theory, I would have 30 minutes of his time. I had also booked a nurse appointment for straight after, in the optimistic hope I might get some blood tests authorised. I identified various tests that I felt should be carried out to exclude underlying infections (from parasites, bacteria or viruses) and meticulously prepared mini-speeches on why he should accept my requests.
I began by asking him to honestly share his views on ME/CFS and on what he was doing with other patients who had the illness. He was very honest about finding treating the illness frustrating (he's a man and a doctor - he likes to fix things!) and that he believes it is a physical disability of unknown origin. The poor guy must have felt like he was speed-dating me whilst I weighed up his pros and cons. I explained that I was frustrated with the diagnosis having the implications of me being beyond treatment and simply being left to manage as best I can. I then began what I thought were going to be fraught negotiations on which tests I could have. I fully expected to be told that I had received all the standard blood work and that nothing else would be done.
To my surprise, he agreed to every test I asked for! In fact, he added one I hadn't thought of. He also said he wished his medical student had been present as I was an "expert patient" who could pass on valuable learning. Whether this was empty flattery or not, I don't know, but it sure hit the spot!
Regardless of whether or not the tests throw up anything we can treat, I left feeling validated. I was heard and I was respected. Sometimes the positive outcome doesn't have to be that what is wrong is fixed. Sometimes it can be that we are simply listened to. He has said he is open to exploring different treatment options with me as long as I can back up my requests with meaningful research papers/data. This is potentially massive when considering how far behind the U.S. the U.K. currently is. There is much I can explore now, with the faith that the wisdom of people such as Dr Lapp, Dr Cheney or Dr Klimas might influence my own doctor.
So, I gave some blood for tests and I have to go back to give more (a lot more!) soon. A very productive day!
This also links in with the aims I had when setting up M.E. Community Projects. What I hope to achieve isn't based upon righting all the wrongs out there. It isn't based on anger or cynicism or negativity. It is solely focused upon those little, tangible ways of making a difference and helping others to feel supported, heard and validated.
Things are moving well in this area. I have been lucky enough to convince two very talented people to take overall responsibility for the editorial and design elements and we have already begun scoping out the first resource we will develop. If you want to get involved in some way (be it research, opinions, writing or supporting the cause in some other way) I'd love to hear from you.
The email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's to more of us being heard and supported :)