The more bullshit I go through, and the longer I’m an impatient patient with multiple chronic illnesses, the more inclined I am to take matters into my own hands. I do hours of research about everything related to auto-immune disease and genetic abnormalities. Over time, I have slowly morphed into a person who barely speaks English. I took anatomy/physiology in high school, but have learned far more about the human body while sick than I ever did from text books and rat dissections. Every time I read medical journals, if there’s a word I’m unfamiliar with, I look it up. There is just as much research into the terminology as there is with the actual topic I’m researching. Medicine is like a huge matryoshka doll, or like an onion if you prefer Donkey’s take on things that have many layers.
If I talk to my Mom about medical stuff, she tells me I should be a doctor. My husband says I should be a doctor. My sister says I should be a doctor. My in-law grandparents say the same. I say, fuck that. I do what I do out of necessity and curiosity. I like to know how things work, and how to fix broken things. With chronic illness, fixing is equivalent to managing, unless there’s an actual cure on deck, in which case, I’d probably already be better by now.
As much as I would love to believe I could actually make it through pre-med, medical school, internship and residency, and a fellowship if I decide to specialize, I’d be at least 50 by the time I could be a practicing physician. I want to make a difference in people’s lives, mainly people like me who suffer while being ignored by the system because most doctors have far too many patients to do the research necessary to fully understand a single patient’s condition(s). Thinking I could make a difference, given the current state of healthcare, is completely unrealistic.
I can’t say I haven’t thought about it, though I seriously doubt my intelligence and potential commitment to academia. I don’t learn that way. I’d do much better with an apprenticeship. Applicable and practical knowledge is what my brain likes, so if I could skip straight through to internship without all of the abstract science, no problem. That’s not the reality of it. There’s a reason not everyone is a doctor, though I’d argue that some of them I’ve encountered never should have graduated high school. Just because I’m a whiz with google search, it doesn’t make me doctor material.
There really is a point to this, and I’m just now getting around to it. There is one thing that has been vexing me for years, even before Crohn’s became a major problem. I have constant pain in my right kidney area, and especially while I’m laying on my right side or slouching to save my lower back. The pain has gotten worse over the years, and I attributed it to kidney disease after I was diagnosed, or the passing of invisible stones (my urine is a cornucopia of crystals). When they pound me in the back to check for CVA tenderness, it always results in me hanging from the ceiling, but I don’t always have kidney stones. I’ve only had two so far, yet it hurts during every single exam and only on the right side. When I asked my nephrologist if my pain is related to the kidney disease, she said, no, it’s more likely the IBD.
After popping a rib, I flipped through my old CT, MRI, and x-ray reports. I had a CT done while inpatient last spring, and it said I have a vestigial rib on the right side of L1, though it hasn’t been noted in any other reports. Does it exist, or doesn’t it? Or is it just an incidental finding that most radiologists don’t take the time to dictate?
I did a little research, and vestigial ribs are relatively rare, occurring in less than 1% of the population (conversely, my hemangioma and partially lumbralized spine are fairly common). Vestigial ribs on the cervical vertebrae are more likely to cause serious side effects, whereas lumbar ribs are generally written off as inconsequential. I did stumble across a case study of a woman who had been complaining of renal pain, but all tests came back normal with the exception of a vestigial rib that showed up on a normal x-ray, which was initially thought to be incidental. Upon further investigation and more imaging studies, it was found that due to a slight variant of the position of her kidney, this extra rib was actually pressing into her kidney while she was in certain positions, thus causing mechanical irritation of the kidney and her subsequent renal pain.
I haven’t been told that my kidneys are in weird places, just that my right kidney is quite a bit larger than my left, and the right lobe of my liver hangs down to my iliac crest (the top of my hip bone), also known as a Riedel’s lobe. Additionally, I was told that my 12th rib on the right side is longer than it should be, and the distance between the 11th and 12th is greater than it should be. All of that, plus an extra rib, leads me to believe I’ve got some major gut congestion on the right side that could be contributing to my pain. I mean, I’m a tiny person with gorilla guts. It’s amazing I don’t have intestines popping out of my belly button. Like I’ve said before, I’m a mutant.
What does all of this mean? It means I’ve formulated yet another theory that I’ll never be able to prove because I’m a dumb patient, not a giant-brained doctor. It’s pretty cool to go on the hunt for all of this stuff though. It keeps my detective skills limber.