It wasn’t for lack of effort from my rheumatologist. Her assistants had called and left messages trying to schedule an appointment, and I simply hadn’t responded. It’s terrible, and childish. So why I was doing this? Sure, I’m busy like anyone else, but that’s not why I was ignoring my doctor. I think I have an aversion to facing my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) head-on, being inspected and prodded with questions about my weakness and pain. When I avoid the doctor, I can pretend to live in a world where I don’t have the disease. I no longer want to have that outlook, so I recommitted myself to regular appointments, and I’ve discovered that there are good reasons to see your doctor when you have RA.
1. Doctors see things you can’t notice on your own.
We think we know our bodies; oftentimes, we’re pretty good assessors of our symptoms, and the progression of our RA. But realistically, we don’t see everything. We may think that our middle finger looks the same as it did six months ago. We may think that our ankles haven’t gotten worse, or that swelling isn’t starting to show in our other knee. But these judgements might be clouded by denial or hope. A rheumatologist has records and notes from past visits, and will order X-rays to compare with past X-rays to give the comprehensive, objective information we need.
2. Professional knowledge leads to better treatment.
Our rheumatologists aren’t paid to be our friends, or tell us what they think we want to hear. Ultimately this is a good thing. Feedback about our health should be unfiltered and objective. It should be based on what our doctor sees and what we tell them. I am not saying that our rheumatologists’ word should be absolute; I think our opinions about our bodies and what’s best for us matter, and I think we should always do our own research and seek second opinions. But I also think we should trust that our doctors are coming from a background of scientific, research-based knowledge.
3. Doctors stay in touch with the latest science.
Our rheumatologists have access to the latest and most comprehensive research on RA. They also have knowledge of the latest medicines on the market. In a field that is constantly evolving in its research and treatment, our rheumatologists can be reliable sources for relevant and helpful information.
4. Frequent bloodwork helps prevent drug side effects.
People with RA have to take some heavy meds. It’s important every few months to have blood tests to be sure the meds aren’t having adverse effects on our kidney and liver function, and recommitting to rheumatologist visits will help us take care of our bodies as a whole.
5. You’ll remember you’re not doing this alone.
Despite our online communities, day-to-day life with RA can sometimes feel isolating. Visiting our rheumatologists can serve as a reminder that we aren’t the only ones going through this and your doctor is an important part of your ‘round-the-clock support system. So talk to your rheumatologist — not just when you have a problem, but on a regular basis. Take it from me: You’ll be glad you did.
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Emil DeAndreis is a baseball coach, and an English professor at College of San Mateo. His memoir, Hard To Grip, chronicles his journey of losing a professional baseball career to rheumatoid arthritis. He lives in San Francisco with his wife. Follow along with Emil on Twitter.