Saturday, 25 April 2015

I seem to have spent much of my life being misdiagnosed by doctors

I first began getting attacks of sciatica about 15 years ago. They weren’t particularly serious, and all I can remember of them now is shooting pains down the front of my legs if I drove the car for longer than an hour or if I went too fast while out walking. Some vigorous manipulation by a physio, an exercise routine, and two years attending a local (bloody expensive) gym pretty much took care of it. Then, three and a half years’ ago, I started waking up with a sore hip. It would ease after half an hour or so. But, after it had worsened considerably over the course of a few months, I went to my doctor, worried that I’d need a hip replacement. Fortunately, I didn’t.  But she sent me for an MRI scan, which I think was mainly to establish that the pain wasn’t anything to do with prostate cancer.  Afterwards, I was informed that (a) I didn’t have cancer and (b) my sciatica had returned.

I haven’t found regular exercise easy for the past 20 months or so in any case, and, during this period, the pain in my hip has become much worse. It goes away as soon as I sit down (thank God), but walking is pretty much impossible for the first few hours of the day, and even after that, I tend to walk canted to one side, which can’t be doing my rather long spine any good at all. So I went back to my GP at the end of last year (a different doctor)  to see if another trip to the physio would be in order. She didn’t think it would, and didn’t bother examining me, and suggested I looked up some exercises on the internet. (Thanks for going that extra mile!) The only thing that was making my mornings bearable was the ibuprofen I’d take as soon as I woke up – but the drug acted like paint-stripper on my stomach (it often does, apparently) so I had to go cold turkey. I found some NHS sciatica exercises online and did them for a month – and they made everything worse. Back to the doctor (a different one yet again) and she made an appointment for me with a “musculoskeletal clinician” at South Ealing Hospital, where I went yesterday.

It’s a rather charming little place in a residential area, with a free car park. (I presume some pen-pusher is planning to axe it even as I write.) The musculoskeletal chappie asked me a lot of questions, examined my hip and back in great detail, then informed me that I didn’t have sciatica at all, but that my sacroiliac joint (the main shock absorber at the base of the spine) and an adjacent joint were suffering a bit of wear and tear and a touch of arthritis. He told me to try heat on the affected area for a few days as soon as I woke up, and then switch to cold, to see which worked better for me. He also gave me a list of exercises to do each day, which are all to do with opening the joints up, and I’m going to see a physio for a serious pummeling within the next few weeks.

I'll be breakdancing down the road in no time.

When I got back from the hospital, it struck me that I’ve spent quite a lot of my life being misdiagnosed by doctors. In my early thirties, a whole slew of GPs were convinced that the really quite spectacular bouts of stomach pain I was suffering for days on end were due to either ulcers or colitis. When the pain eventually became unbearable, my wife drove me to Hammersmith Hospital, where the nurse who put me in a wheelchair and pushed me off to see a doctor informed me that I had pancreatitis. She turned out to be right. A year later, a hospital doctor told me I had diabetes: five years’ later my GP, having ordered some standard blood tests, told me I didn’t. I spent most of last year being tested for every medical condition under the sun in order to explain my seemingly permanent lassitude. After about nine months I finally asked one of the medical wallahs if I didn’t simply have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. They demurred. When I had my last hospital appointment in January, I was informed that I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. (I presume the problem is that CFS isn’t actually a diagnosis – it’s just a fancy way of saying you’re weirdly knackered most of the time. A third of the medical profession thinks CFS is a load of nonsense dreamed up by scrimshankers with LMF; another third believe it to be a psychological condition, like clinical depression – in which case why haven’t I been referred to a trick cyclist?; and the final third think it’s a physiological condition whose cause hasn’t yet been discovered – in which case, just fucking hurry up, will you! I’m getting bored. I also wonder if CFS might not partially explain the number of Victorian ladies who took to their beds in their fifties and stayed there for the next thirty years, making everyone’s life a misery.)

I’m not complaining about this tendency to misdiagnose, honestly. I suppose this is how science works. But it would be interesting to know how many people in Britain are walking around at any one time with physical or mental problems which have either been wrongly diagnosed, or haven’t been diagnosed at all because of the NHS’s sclerotic and chronically inefficient bureaucracy, or because medical research hasn’t yet come up with the answer. And I wonder if there’s less misdiagnosis in the private sector, or if it’s just about the same.

All of our main political parties have promised to pour more money into the NHS if they bag the keys to No. 10 next month. Why do I just know that none of it will make a blind bit of difference?


  1. I have no way of knowing if misdiagnosis is worse in private medicine but I do know it is rife in the sort I can afford.

    I have just had an aged parent hospitalised by a potentially fatal dose of the wrong medicine prescribed by a GP. While in hospital, she was then given the wrong treatment to correct it, resulting in a further admission to another hospital elsewhere, which also managed to give her the wrong treatment. All this according to her consultant, who advised her to sue

    Part of the problem is the NHS, I'm sure. But equally, doctors are taught to be tin gods and too many take to the role with alacrity.

    Personally, I won't go anywhere near them unless I am at death's door, and then I tend to assume all they will do is ease me through it.

    1. Or hurry you through it, if Mid Staffs is anything to go by.

      I suspect it has something to do with the NHS being told it is the envy of the world for the past 60-odd years and - unfortunately - believing it. That, and the endless proliferation of useless and otherwise unemployable administrative staff. Or it could be the quality of seniro NHS "managers", some of whom I've met and who appeare to be the smuggest human beings on God's earth, as if being connected in some way with the NHS means they're morally superior to everyone who isn't.

      The best of luck to your aged parent, and here's hoping for a speedy recovery.