My health practitioner harmed me

When someone you trust with your health harms you, it hurts; mentally and physically

Earlier this year I was ‘officially’ diagnosed with osteoarthritis in multiple limbs; the condition affects my toes, ankles and fingers.

My symptoms began around five years ago when I started experiencing intermittent pain in my left ankle. At the time, x-rays found nothing major was wrong with my ankle, and I went to see a physiotherapist who recommended some simple exercises. So, I went on my merry way, hobbling down the path with much worse to come.

Fast forward to mid-2016 and my symptoms had become far worse; the pain was still in my left ankle but had also worked its way into my knees and my fingers. I hadn’t done much about managing my condition, beyond taking over the counter pain medications, but my joints were getting much worse now; the pain was becoming unbearable, and some of my joints were losing their flexibility and function.

I’m a writer. I type words for a living, and my fingers had started to swell and experience pain; the osteoarthritis was invading my hands now.

I had to do something!

Someone close to me had been seeing a local acupuncturist who was helping her with managing pain, she recommended that I go to see him. I had seen a different acupuncturist many years before when my symptoms began and this treatment hadn’t helped. I was sceptical, but my daily pain was getting worse, and I made an appointment to see this Chinese acupuncturist who ‘specialised’ in managing pain.

It’s easy to harm someone who has no hope.

I’m not suggesting in any way that what happened next, the harm that occurred to my body, was the result of deliberate or intentional actions by this health practitioner; I am sure that he genuinely believed that his course of treatment would help me and that he never intended any harm to occur.

As a result of the treatments I received, I have never issued a formal complaint to this practitioner, nor to any medical authority and do not intend to. I have never initiated legal proceedings against this practitioner and do not intend to. I am sharing my story as a piece of advice to others experiencing much pain and little hope.

The way that this acupuncturist treated my condition seemed odd from the start: instead of inserting the acupuncture needles in different pressure points around my body, he inserted the needles directly into spaces between my joints where my pain was at its worst. He would painfully squeeze my joints, asking where it hurt most, and when I identified the point of my pain’s apex, he would jab the needle in, right there.

And I would roar in pain.

I kept asking the acupuncturist “Why are you doing this? Why are you hurting me?” and his response was that he knew what he was doing and that I should trust him. Plus, he assured me, the pain would lessen over time and eventually go away.

But, the ‘treatments’ became even worse. After injecting needles into my painful joints, the acupuncturist would bind my fingers and my ankles with Kinesio tape. He assured me that using the tape would reduce the swelling in my joints and ‘correct’ them so that they would once again sit in their more natural positions, the ones they were in before being twisted and cruelled by osteoarthritis.

With my joints restricted in their movement, my pain began to lessen. I believed that the combination of painful acupuncture and taping to eliminate movement of my sore joints was ‘working’. A part of me knew that it was wrong to prevent the movement of my joints. I remembered articles and advice that I had read when working as the marketing manager for an arthritis organisation: Move It Or Lose It. The maxim was that joints needed movement to stay healthy, yet this acupuncturist was binding my fingers so tightly with tape that weeks would go by without me bending my fingers.

Being brave enough to question hope.

My wife began to become suspicious of this acupuncturist. Why was I seeing him for multiple appointments each week? Why was he binding my limbs?

Why was he inserting needles into my body in a way that was causing so much pain?

She asked all these questions out of love for me and out of concern for my health. But I only saw her doubts as ‘attacks’ on my treatment. No, I decided that her questions were something far worse: they were attacks on my hope. And I pushed back, accusing her of wanting to save money rather than spend on my health. Thinking back to this time, I am ashamed of the way I behaved towards the woman that I love so much.

Going back to the time when I received this ‘care’, I can now admit that somewhere inside of me I knew this aggressive treatment was wrong. During some appointments, the acupuncturist would roughly tug on my swelled, painful fingers in an attempt to ‘correct’ their placement and swelling. As he did this, I would shout in pain and ask him if he was sure this was safe, if he was sure this would help me. His answer was always the same: “I know what I am doing.”

With the benefit of hindsight, with the benefit of looking at my tortured, inflexible fingers, I should have been more strident in my questioning, braver in taking him on and challenging his course of treatment. But, again, I faced this voice in the back of my head that just kept repeating the word ‘Hope’ over and over.

I ended the treatment. But, the hurt remains.

Some months ago I stopped seeing this acupuncturist; I came to know him for who he is: a practitioner who puts money before patients. I know this is a big call, a significant label to affix to him, but when he insisted on seeing me multiple times a week, for $85 each time, I knew something was up; my chronic health condition became his cash cow. Patients deserve treatments that help them, not only the practitioner’s bank balance.

I have also come to see him as a charlatan, someone who doesn’t practise medicine so much as practices guessing games where, when he gets the answer wrong, the patient is the one who loses.

These days I manage my osteoarthritis through regular training and exercise and the use of pain relief medications. My feet and knees are slowly getting better, and my flexibility in these joints is slightly and slowly improving. But, my fingers remain stubborn and stuck, they feel rusted in place, and I don’t think they can ever move ‘properly’ again. My rheumatologist believes that the conditions of my hands will not improve, but that they will also not likely get worse. I guess that’s the good news.

But, my hands still give me significant pain; especially the right one.

My frustration remains high as I struggle with joints that don’t move or function as they should.

The pain associated with my right middle finger is more emotional than physical; I’m 43 years old, and I have a misshapen middle finger that I can’t bend. I have to live with this grotesque finger for the rest of my life; a finger that was harmed by a medical practitioner who did nothing to repay the hope that I had foolishly invested in him and his treatments.

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