Brevard County, FL, USA

The Harrowing Experience: A Military Spouse's Battle for a Diagnosis in America

BREVARD COUNTY, FL. - Healthcare professionals reassured me that I was unlikely to have cancer, especially the same kind as my younger sibling. They disregarded the symptoms I was experiencing, which included difficulty breathing, chest pressure, extreme fatigue, dizziness, night sweats, swollen lymph nodes, and sudden weight loss. Instead of helping me identify the reasons behind these symptoms, they focused more on convincing me that I was wrong. One doctor even went as far as labeling me as paranoid, while another mocked me for being a "typical military spouse who couldn't handle deployments," despite my previous experience with multiple deployments.

Patients who suffer from illness have to contend with the ineffective healthcare system in the US, which is driven by profit. Some individuals are unable to access vital treatment and medication, resulting in a deterioration of their health and facing financial difficulties. Moreover, those who are too sick to speak up for themselves often feel disheartened and give up on trying to schedule appointments and receive adequate care while battling against insurance providers.

When I had our daughter and was going through my postpartum period, my husband was away, serving in the military overseas. The medical professionals assumed that I would not be able to cope with the stress, making remarks about the common stereotypes associated with military wives. Two doctors, due to their arrogance and out of concern for my children's presence, denied my request for an X-ray.

I had to take my baby in a car seat and my toddler with autism to emergency rooms and doctor appointments. During this time, I faced criticism because I didn't have anyone to help me with my children. All the while, I was trying to figure out why, at only 26 years old, I couldn't walk a short distance without feeling like I would faint.

Instead of acknowledging and attending to my severe symptoms, the doctors regarded them as exaggerated reactions typical of women and attributed them to the stress inherent in being part of a military family. This distressing pattern persisted and repeated itself with every physician I came across.

I was in desperate need of answers, so I decided to travel to a clinic that was situated in a dilapidated building, and the examination room left a lasting impression on me as I sat on a makeshift chair constructed from plywood placed over two benches. At that point, my intuition was telling me that if I didn't take action, I could potentially lose my life. Although the poor conditions of the clinic were a concern, my primary focus was on my struggle to breathe properly and the recurring episodes of dizziness and vertigo. It was during this visit that a doctor conducted a chest examination using an X-ray, resulting in a diagnosis of bronchitis. As part of my treatment, the doctor prescribed antibiotics.

When I became sick and needed medical help, I came to understand how often doctors fail to seize opportunities to save lives and how the healthcare system has its flaws. Throughout my experience, I encountered five doctors who misdiagnosed my condition, attributing it to panic disorder, asthma, bronchitis, allergic reaction, and other unrelated symptoms.

The approach taken by those in charge was to prescribe medications for different conditions that were misdiagnosed, as I had cancerous growths that were spreading quickly within me. These included drugs to reduce inflammation, treat depression and anxiety, manage asthma, antibiotics like amoxicillin, treatments for allergies, pain relievers, and drugs to relax muscles. Even though I consistently insisted on getting genuine explanations, my concerns were not being heard.

After a couple of months, since my younger sibling was diagnosed and consulting with six different doctors, I finally received the outcome of my biopsy, indicating that I had stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma Cancer. This verdict was repeatedly claimed to be impossible.

While my health deteriorated, these physicians only worsened my suffering and pain with their actions that were beyond words. If I had followed the advice of the doctors, I wouldn't be alive at this moment. I had to struggle and resist the dismissive and scornful behavior of the so-called experts to save my own life. Just having a medical degree does not necessarily ensure ethical behavior or empathy from doctors. Always keep in mind that it is acceptable to fight for your survival.

What actions can be taken regarding the healthcare system in the United States?  Utilize the strength of your voice by communicating with your representative and insisting on a transformation of the US healthcare system.

1. Expand access to health insurance.

One of the biggest challenges facing the US healthcare system is the high number of uninsured Americans. There are a number of ways to expand access to health insurance, including:

  • Expanding Medicaid eligibility
  • Creating a public option for health insurance
  • Offering subsidies to help people afford health insurance

2. Control the cost of care.

The United States spends far more on healthcare than any other developed country. In 2020, the United States spent $3.8 trillion on healthcare, or 19.7% of GDP. This is significantly higher than the average for developed countries, which spend an average of 10.9% of GDP on healthcare. There are a number of ways to control the cost of care, including:

  • Negotiating lower prices for prescription drugs
  • Implementing price transparency measures
  • Promoting value-based care

3. Improve the quality of care.

The United States has a number of challenges with the quality of care, including:

  • High rates of preventable deaths
  • Racial disparities in health outcomes
  • A shortage of primary care physicians

There are a number of ways to improve the quality of care, including:

  • Investing in preventive care
  • Collecting and analyzing data on healthcare quality
  • Implementing pay-for-performance programs

4. Address social determinants of health.

Social determinants of health are the factors that influence health outcomes, such as income, education, and access to healthy food and housing. There are a number of ways to address social determinants of health, including:

  • Investing in early childhood education
  • Raising the minimum wage
  • Expanding access to affordable housing

5. Increase transparency and accountability.

The US healthcare system is complex and opaque, which can make it difficult for consumers to make informed decisions about their care. There are a number of ways to increase transparency and accountability, including:

  • Requiring healthcare providers to disclose their prices
  • Making healthcare data more accessible to consumers
  • Holding healthcare providers accountable for their quality of care

Revamping the US healthcare system is a complex undertaking, but it is necessary to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable, high-quality care. By taking steps to expand access to health insurance, control the cost of care, improve the quality of care, address social determinants of health, and increase transparency and accountability, we can move closer to a healthcare system that works for everyone.