I expected to get sick my freshman year. We all do. Whether we struggle with the world’s worst hangover or a simple cold, not having our parents to take care of us for the first time feels terrifying. Thankfully, tons of universities provide on-campus infirmaries, and while they’re no substitute for mom’s chicken soup, they get the job done. And why shouldn’t they? Their doctors went through med school, completed a residency and worked their asses off so that they can know better than the patient.
I have a long history of serious ear infections. I’m talking 103-degree fevers, ear tube surgeries and endless rounds of antibiotics. So when I came back from spring break feeling like a soccer player kicked my right ear, I suspected the culprit of the extreme pressure in my ear to be another infection. Suffering with a constant debilitating threat of explosion spread from my ear, to my head, to my will to live, I headed to my trusted university infirmary.
As I sat filling out endless pages of paperwork, all I could only clutch my ear and moan. An hour passed. I dizzily asked a nurse what was going on and she assured me I was next. More time passed. My throat dried up, my eyes ran with tears and I curled up into a ball in my chair. Finally, more than two hours after I arrived, they sent me in to see the doctor.
The doctor hurried in and curtly asked me what was wrong. I said I thought I had an ear infection, but she fired back saying that I didn’t have a fever so I couldn’t be right. I tried to tell her my fever broke the night before. I described all of my symptoms and even explained my history with ear infections.
Instead of examining me, she criticized me for leaving my ear tube surgery off my form. I explained that I forgot because I was not feeling well. She looked over me hastily and stuck her otoscope in each of my ears for two seconds. “You look fine to me, just take some DayQuil and you’ll feel better.”
I felt completely taken aback. “What about class? Do I get an excuse note?” I asked. “You’re not sick enough, you can go back to class,” she said and then breezed out of the room without a second glance.
My appointment took two minutes. When my friend picked me up from the infirmary I burst into tears. He asked me what was wrong over and over again but I started hyperventilating. The doctor made me feel stupid and insignificant, like I wasn’t worth her time. Through the sobs I explained what happened. He was horrified at how I had been treated and demanded I return, but I felt too afraid and begged him not to take me back. So I went home, took some DayQuil, and trusted the doctor’s examination.
The next day, the pain became so severe that I couldn’t eat, move or speak without sobbing. My friend rushed me to the emergency room, where the ER staff sent me to the nurse practitioner within 30 minutes of my arrival. They also allowed my friend to go with me as an advocate because I was too sick to communicate. The nurses listened to all of our complaints and examined me thoroughly, offering Gatorade, tissues and asking what they could do to help. Within a few seconds of peering into my ears, she diagnosed me with a terrible case of otitis media—a bacterial ear infection.
She gave me pain meds immediately and couldn’t believe the infirmary shooed me away without a second glance. The front desk made sure to write me an excuse note for the rest of the week and wished me the best.
When I got back on my feet a week later, I wrote to the infirmary to inform them that their doctor had not only misdiagnosed me, but she had also mistreated me. Their response? “I am sorry that you did not have a positive experience at Student Health. I will forward your comment to the medical director for review.”
I waited for someone to contact me, but the only thing that arrived was a $300 medical bill from the ER. I forwarded the bill to the infirmary staff. I wouldn’t need to spend $300 if they hadn’t misdiagnosed me in the first place.
The infirmary’s medical director finally reached out once I forwarded the ER bill. He hastily explained that my comment never reached his desk, and my symptoms must not have been visible to the doctor the day I visited. Although I call his excuses bullshit, he apologized profusely and begged that I give the infirmary a second chance.
I guarantee you I won’t do that.
I ended up paying the $300 bill, but the real issue here is not malpractice or negligence. I learned three incredibly valuable things when I got screwed over by the infirmary. First, bring an advocate. You want someone with you to question people’s choices when you’re too sick to do it. Second, doctors are not always right. Sometimes they don’t take closer looks at things and sometimes they’re just bad doctors. You trust them with your lives, but they don’t always know what’s best. And finally, trust your instincts. When you feel horrible, don’t let someone else tell you to get over it. Listen to your body. Only you know what you feel inside.
Make the doctors listen to you because if you don’t, the infirmary may just screw you.