I used to think doctors were like doctors on TV — they were all on the lookout for health problems, and if something stumped them, they’d do research and figure it out. I have discovered in my life that doctors are literally never that way. Consider this encouragement to advocate for yourselves.

Last November I started having random, ongoing pain in my left hip and lower back, so I went to see my primary care physician. She didn’t seem very convinced I was actually in pain, told me she thought I’d probably pulled something, and to take ibuprofen as needed to keep the swelling down. I did that.

But the pain didn’t go away, so in early January I went back. At that point, she diagnosed me with tendonitis (which I have since learned can be a bit of a catch-all) and told me to seriously take more ibuprofen. She also had some x-rays done, which showed arthritis — note, I am only 33 — on my spine and blood work. The first round of blood work came back with an extremely elevated white count, so the doctor’s office sent me back to the lab. My second round of bloodwork came in just under the normal threshold for white count.

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Also, after my initial diagnosis of tendonitis, I hooked up with a personal trainer who is also a certified massage therapist and told her about the hip. I went to the gym to see the trainer 3 times a week for two months. She was really careful and attentive and I worked hard, but I had many horrible days anyway.

Then it was March, and I was taking between 1600–2400mg of ibuprofen a day plus using cannabis just to live. I went on a planned vacation to Mexico which was both lovely and kind of miserable in turn (I did not pack my cannabis). I had to ice every single day, a couple time multiple times per day, just to walk around.

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So when I got back from vacation in mid/late March I made another doctor’s appointment. (This was at my husband’s urging because, I’ll be honest, at that point I thought it was probably at least partially insane and the pain was in my head.) I went into the doctor’s office and said I was in a LOT of pain, emphasizing a lot. Both the doctor and the nurse practitioner there chastised me at that point for not coming to them and telling them I was *really* hurting.

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I wanted some kind of soft tissue imaging, just to check and see if something was wrong. They told me that my insurance probably wouldn’t approve it until I’d done physical therapy officially for awhile. So I signed up for physical therapy (I hadn’t gone back to the gym/trainer since returning from Mexico) and did that twice per week until last week when I called and insisted they schedule me for an MRI.

I had the MRI on Monday morning. Monday afternoon around 3pm, I got a call from my doctor’s office.

GUESS FUCKING WHAT MOTHERFUCKERS

I had to stop physical therapy immediately because I had in, the nurse’s words, a “significant” problem with a disc in my lumbar spine and I was being referred to an orthopedic surgeon.

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I will probably need fucking spinal surgery and I have just been powering through it for almost six months because I apparently should have just taken myself to the emergency room last November. Because apparently, if a patient doesn’t come in on a stretcher screaming, they’re not really in pain. When I said I was a 7/8 on the pain scale I fucking meant it. Just because I was raised to be stoic and not go histrionic doesn’t mean I’m full of shit.

Don’t do what I did. Don’t let physicians downplay your pain because they can’t see it.