To The Doctor Who Made Me Believe That I Was Crazy

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serious woman

By Emily Bernstein

Dr. Mason*,

Telling a 15-year-old girl, who had seen eight other doctors, had three MRIs, and was in a whole lot of pain, that she’s crazy probably wasn’t the best idea.

Forget the fact that my parents were in the room with me, listening to you tell me that I should probably look into psychiatric care. Instead, you should have seen how much I was hurting.

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Were my scans showing nothing? Yes. Was my pain level high? Sure.

But maybe that’s because of doctors like you, who kept looking at me — a damaged, hurt 15-year-old — and thinking: she’s faking all of this to get out of obligations.

I tell people about you. I talk to them about how you looked me right in the eye and called me crazy. I tell them how you accused me of lying to get out of playing volleyball, a sport that I still love wholeheartedly and that defined who I was at the time.

I gesture wildly to describe the way your smug expression took up the whole doorway when you walked in after the first cortisone shot didn’t work. I tell them that I blame you.

I blame you because I can’t play competitively anymore and I’m pretty sure it’s because I waited too long to have a surgery that my joints desperately needed. I blame you for making me doubt myself and my feelings and my pain. And when I was diagnosed with my depression and anxiety, I thought of you.

You probably see tons of 15-year-old, competitive athletes crying in your office. You probably welcome patients with a medical history document as long as you are tall. You probably see liars all the time, just begging you for a surgery they don’t need.

You probably don’t remember me at all. And that’s okay; I understand. But I’ll remember you for the rest of my life. You taught me how not to treat someone in pain. You showed me how to act like a proper human being, and not laugh at someone's heartache.

You proved to me that doctors aren’t always right. You taught me so much, and you don’t even know it.

Where you failed, someone recognized that I was suffering. Someone helped me, and got that big fat check from my parents. Someone looked me in the eye and told me that I wasn’t crazy, and they have my eternal gratitude.

Where you failed, another surgeon saw my pain and picked me up. He operated, he found the problem, he believed me.

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Where my father’s laser eyes made you feel nothing, my father’s smile made Dr. Smith* care. Where my shoulders’ clicking and moans made you smirk in disbelief, they made Dr. Smith’s eyebrows raise.

Because where my tears and unexplained pain clearly made you uncomfortable, it made Dr. Smith feel sad for me, and made me feel understood for the first time in a year.

And I walked away from that with an inch and a half long screw in my shoulder and a repaired rotator cuff (and two more surgeries after that). I walked away from him better than when I met him.

But, I don’t want your pity. I just want you to know that what you say matters. And who you believe matters.

When you took the oath of "Do No Harm," did you not think that included the mental harm of telling someone they need psychiatric care? When you graduated from med school as a surgeon, who gave you the right to decide if someone needed a hospital and some good old-fashioned therapy? When you walked into my examination room, who told you that you could play with someone’s emotions like that?

I’m sure you thought I was crazy — a sophomore in high school dragging her parents around to orthopedic surgeons. I’m sure you thought I could have benefited from a check-in with a therapist or two. But I just don’t get it.

You’re a doctor. You’re someone who people can turn to when they’re hurting or upset or they just know something is wrong.

You’re someone who should fix others. You’re someone who should take tears and pain seriously.

I hope that someday, you think of me. I hope you wake up one day wondering how I’m doing, if I had my “unneeded” surgery yet, if I remember you, if I’m healing.

No thanks to you, I am healed and still healing. Thanks for nothing.

(*Names changed for anonymity.)

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Emily Bernstein is a writer whose work focuses on mental health, pop culture, love, and family. Her writing has been featured in Nature, The New Yorker, Interview Magazine, Healio, Five O'Clock, among others. Follow her on Twitter for more.

This article was originally published at Unwritten. Reprinted with permission from the author.