‘The surgeon said, ‘You’re fine. You’re just a hysterical housewife.’ A piece of metal oozed out of my wrist.’: Woman misdiagnosed and bullied by doctor, ‘It makes you question your own voice’

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“I tore a ligament in my right wrist. I was a mom with young kids who did lots of laundry, driving, and was also an avid yogini, which put pressure on my wrists. There was no exciting accident which caused the injury. It simply tore over time and with use. After I realized it required surgery, I interviewed three surgeons to repair my right wrist and decided on the young Stanford surgeon who came highly recommended.

He performed the outpatient surgery at a fancy surgical clinic and that day, I went home with a pretty pink cast on for 6 weeks. I didn’t mind the cast at all but I was ready to get back to being a mom and also getting back to yoga and being an athlete. My doctor had promised I would be fine by Christmas.

Courtesy of Christine Handy

Three days after the cast came off, I knew there was a problem. The pain came out of nowhere. I knew what pain felt like and this was different. The pain was so intense, I decided getting out of bed was too much to handle. I cradled my right arm on my chest like a baby and stopped eating any food and stopped drinking even water, that way I didn’t have to move or get out of bed. The only movement was the involuntary shaking from the intense pain. My whole body just shook.

I called my doctor on Sunday. He seemed agitated. I told him, ‘I’m sorry to call on a Sunday ,but the pain and swelling are so much worse.!’ In fact, at that point, my right arm had ballooned so much, it looked like my thigh. He told me, “You must have over-iced it.’ I was taught to believe doctors are authority and since they are the ones who went to medical school, well, he knew more than me.

Courtesy of Christine Handy

I took the ice off and tried to get through the day. Two days later, I still couldn’t eat, drink, or get out of bed and desperately needed to see my doctor. I called his office, but his office seemed put out that I was ‘bothering’ them. He finally agreed to see me and we went the next day.

When I got to his office, I assumed I would see the doctor. Just putting clothes on, getting out of bed and into a car was brutal enough. But to wait in his office and then to be seen only by his nurse was maddening. But, I was a rule follower. I gently showed the nurse my arm I was still cradling like a baby on my chest. She put it in a splint, said it was fine, and sent me home.

I went home, ignored my children, which broke my heart, and got back in bed. I did my best to not call the doctor, to just stay in bed cradling my arm and wait for my arm to heal.

Courtesy of Christine Handy

Days later, I was still in bed, my house and motherly duties being set aside. I broke down and called the doctor again. I went in for the second time and this time he saw me. I was relieved. He examined my arm and said I had RSD. He explained to me, ‘RSD is a disorder when your brain communicates to your arm there is pain and swelling but in fact, it is a misfire from my brain.’ He assured me my arm was fine. He said the surgery worked but he said I needed pain medication. He referred me to a pain management doctor he worked with.

The next day, I was driven to her office and she concurred the same diagnosis. I thought to myself, ‘Well, now there are two doctors with the same conclusion. They must be right.’ I did wonder at this point why they weren’t doing an x-ray or blood work, but I was taught not to question authority and again, they had the medical degree, not me.

Courtesy of Christine Handy

The pain management doctor gave me lots and lots of pain medication but it bothered my stomach and truthfully, didn’t actually eliminate the pain. The pain was too intense and I stopped taking it. Why destroy my liver on medication which wasn’t really working?

The surgeon also told me he would do a nerve block in my neck to try and lessen the pain and swelling. The nerve block was another surgery with anesthesia and it was also risky. If they put the block in the wrong spot, it could paralyze me. I learned then complications led to other complications and so on.

The first nerve block did not work. They did a second one a week later. Again, risky. In the meantime, the pain and swelling in my arm were getting worse by the day. It was unbearable.

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Shortly after the nerve blocks, the surgeon told me there was a special physical therapist at a burn unit in a hospital downtown. I would start physical therapy immediately with him. In fact, he made it clear RSD would ultimately lock up my wrist so it was imperative I go to physical therapy every day. I needed to get as much movement as possible in my wrist for 6 months. After 6 months, the time would run out and whatever movement I had would be it, forever.

Courtesy of Christine Handy
Courtesy of Christine Handy

I went to physical therapy 5 days a week for months. I couldn’t drive myself because of the casts and contraptions on my right arm so I asked friends and family to help. They helped take care of me. They cared for my kids and my home and they drove me everywhere. I felt guilty for having to rely on so many, for so long. I was an independent woman and didn’t like having to be so dependent on others. Plus, I had been a thriving mother, wife, model, and athlete for so long. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. I was sickly, losing weight, the pain was paralyzing, and my hair was thinning. I felt useless and shocked the pain was not going away.

Courtesy of Christine Handy

Months went by, and I showed up day after day for physical therapy. I became very good friends with the physical therapist. I spent more time with him than anyone else in my life. I went to PT on my birthday, my son’s birthday, and almost every day other than weekends. I also cried every day in physical therapy. The pain was intense and the exercises they were having me do to get any movement in my wrist took the air out of my lungs. My tears and fears got me nowhere. Nothing was improving.

Courtesy of Christine Handy

In the meantime, my mom asked me to get a second opinion. I told her my doctor was the best in town and he assured me I was going to be okay, so I dismissed her. I went to see my surgeon every once in a while to get checked out but I noticed how demeaning he was to me. He started to be bullish and his arrogance started to creep in.

Courtesy of Christine Handy

On New Year’s Eve, I was home in bed, holding my arm like a baby and weeping because the pain was so bad. A friend of mine texted me and said, ‘Come over before my New Year’s party. I have an old high school friend who is an arm surgeon. Come an hour before the party and I will ask him to look at your arm.’ At first, I said no. I couldn’t get out of bed and what was the point? My doctor and another doctor diagnosed me with RSD, so what help could her friend be? But, she insisted so I asked my husband to drive me to her house. I sat down with her doctor friend for about 30 minutes. He was in his early 60’s, a kind man with a kind heart. He examined my arm and started to write down some things for me to take to my surgeon. He told me he knew my doctor and he had an impeccable record. He said, ‘You’re in good hands. But I will email your doctor tonight and tell him my thoughts.’ I said thank you and we left.

Two days later, I got a call from the nurse at my surgeon’s office. She said the doctor needed to see me. I went in the next day. I felt a moment of hope. The doctor was irritated the moment I walked in. He examined my wrist and asked me why I went to see another doctor. I told him I hadn’t, I had only gone by my friend’s house before her New Years party to see her doctor friend but the surgeon cut me off and got more irritated. He said, ‘You are fine. You are just a hysterical housewife.’

But how could I be a hysterical housewife? He didn’t know me and I had never shed a tear in his office. I said nothing to him. He then cauterized the surgical opening that had never healed. The surgery had been 3 months prior and the two orthoscopic openings were both still open, red, and inflamed. He burnt them both shut.

Courtesy of Christine Handy

This is when the bullying really began. Two weeks after that appointment, I was in the bathtub and a small piece of metal oozed out of my right wrist, from the surgical opening the doctor had just burnt shut. I took a picture of it and emailed it to his office. His response was alarming. He replied, ‘How do I know you didn’t make that picture up or take a picture of the arm of an airplane?’ I was shocked. He was calling me a liar. I didn’t tell anyone what he had said, I started to feel such shame.

Unfortunately, when you are bullied, it often makes you question your own voice, which is exactly what happened to me. I started to question myself and wondered if I was making it up. I didn’t tell anyone the doctor was bullying me, I was too ashamed. Two weeks after, another small piece of metal extracted from my wrist. When I saw it trying to ooze out, I grabbed my cell phone and videoed it coming out to prove to the doctor I wasn’t lying.

Shortly after that incident, I did muster up enough courage to defy my surgeon and I went to see the kind doctor who saw me on New Year’s Eve. The moment I got in his office, he treated me with such kindness and assured me again how much he thought of my surgeon. He said he would take a quick x-ray. He chatted with me and my husband for a moment and the left the room to check the x-ray.

When he came back, his face was as white as a ghost. He asked my husband to leave the room and they stepped out. I knew something very wrong was going on. I waited, fearing the worst but had no idea what the worst was until they came back in.

My new doctor came in with my husband and he sat down in front of me. He looked shocked and worried. He asked me, ‘Did your surgeon take an x-ray in the last 6 months?’ I said no. He asked me, ‘Did your surgeon do a blood test in the last 6 months?’ I said no. He then told me we would need to go into surgery immediately. He said all of the bones in my wrist had broken and fallen into a pile at the bottom of my wrist. He said he would go in and try to scoop out as much infection as possible and hope I wouldn’t lose my arm.

Within two hours, I was in surgery. They did scoop as much infection out as they could and put a PICC line in my arm which was threaded to my heart. The PICC line would administer massive antibiotics to try and get rid of the bone infection, called osteomyelitis, which had been brewing in my arm for the last 6 months. The doctor said the worst-case scenario after the infection was gone was a full fusion. He assured me this was only done in extreme cases and he had hope it wouldn’t happen to me.

Courtesy of Christine Handy

Unfortunately, the misdiagnosed infection had destroyed my arm too much and I did have to have a full fusion. My arm was grafted and a cadaver bone was put in.

Courtesy of Christine Handy
Courtesy of Christine Handy

I was just starting to come to grips with how I would live with a fused dominant arm when I went in for my 6-week post-fusion checkup and felt a lump in my left breast. 5 days later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”

To read the rest of Christine’s story, click here.

Courtesy of Christine Handy

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christine Handy, bestselling author of Walk Beside Me. You can follow their journey on Instagram and their website. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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