Fibromyalgia and the Emergency Room: A Cautionary Tale

Yesterday in one of my fibromyalgia groups, someone asked about going to the ER for their severe fibro pain. I responded, somewhat crassly, that I’d rather die on the floor alone than go to the ER for fibro pain. It sounds extreme but it’s not hyperbole. Here’s what happens when you visit the emergency room for invisible pain. You sit in the waiting room for a very, VERY long time, because if you aren’t bleeding, burning, or breathing not, you are not a priority. And the truth of the matter is, you are NOT an emergency. It may feel like you are going to die of fibromyalgia pain, but you won’t.

My story:

When I went to the ER once upon a time for a fibro flare, probably 17 years ago, I waited a goodly amount of time for a doctor who eventually sauntered into my room. I remember every detail. He was wearing a surgical cap and was obviously trolling for exciting cases. Somehow, he got assigned mine. I was not exciting. I was just a twenty something curled in a ball on the narrow hospital bed with my eyes squeezed shut in agony. If not for my soaring blood pressure, he would have had no proof at all that I wasn’t pretending for painkillers. I’ve since learned that this is a clear and present danger in the emergency room; drug seekers faking their symptoms to get the good stuff, and making it very difficult for people in actual pain to receive treatment.

I had the bad luck to be given the most arrogant doctor in the history of doctors at this particular ER visit. I still remember his name. Dr. Taylor. He glanced at me, diagnosed me with anxiety, and left the room. He did not examine me or speak to me about my symptoms. His nurse returned moments later with a prescription for anxiety meds that I already had. The doctor poked his head back in. “A party gift for your trouble,” he said offhandedly with a smirk, then disappeared again.

At the time I was young and naive. I still believed all doctors were good and kind and there to help me. After I dressed and walked out to the main area I caught him as he was walking by. He sighed and slowed, visibly irritated. I held out the prescription and said, “I have this at home and it doesn’t really help. Is there anything else-”

He snatched the prescription from my hand and crumpled it into a ball before tossing it in a nearby wastebasket. Then he walked off wordlessly.

I’m never been the type to be pushed around. I’m assertive and direct. I don’t suffer fools and I’m an excellent advocate for myself. But ask yourself what you would do in this situation? I wasn’t in a position to do much. I was barely upright from the pain and having a very hard time focusing. Consequently, I just walked to my car and cried. I cried all the way home. I cried when I got home. I felt helpless, embarrassed, and I was suffering greatly from fibro pain. Now I was also suffering from anxiety as well. When I relived the experience for my parents, I had a panic attack, one of the few I’ve had in my life. Even today, so many years later, recounting this story gives me palpitations and yucky feelings.

What I did do: I wrote an official letter of complaint about this doctor’s treatment of me to the hospital. It took many months for them to respond, but their findings were that the doctor had diagnosed me properly. They thanked me for my letter and closed by saying they considered the matter addressed and further correspondence would not be necessary.

All this to say, I will never, no never, go to the emergency room for fibromyalgia again. I have had some flares that were so severe I thought I would pass out from the pain, but by God I stayed home and rode it out. Anything, ANYTHING, is better than sitting in a waiting room chair, followed by laying on a uncomfortable hospital bed, followed by being treated like a degenerate drug seeker,when you are having a threat level midnight flare up.

Have you ever gone to the hospital for a fibro flare or chronic invisible pain? If so, drop me a comment and let me know if your experience was better than mine! I sure hope so!

3 thoughts on “Fibromyalgia and the Emergency Room: A Cautionary Tale

  1. The only time I went to the ER for a flare up was after my very first flare up. That’s because I was laid out on my bathroom floor for about 7 hours but then finally decided to call an ambulance where they strapped me to a stretcher and took me to the ER. Never again will I do that. They strapped me on my head, waist, and feet. They kept me from moving. That was the worst while I was in the middle of severe back spasms. Then I went to the ER and waited, and waited, while still strapped to the stretcher. I was in agony and I was crying my eyes out. It was a nightmare. I felt like I was being tortured while I was having an intense flare up. They gave me some kind of muscle relaxer and then sent me home. Never again will I put myself through that. I’d rather be laid out on my bathroom floor for another 7 hours than be strapped to a stretcher. Ugh. I feel your pain.

      1. Like you said …keep yourself at home. I just hope I never get locked up like that where I can’t move, in a public place. I’ve been lucky so far it’s only happened at home.

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