Dear Dr. Karpel:
I feel awful. I have been going to a chiropractor regularly in my hometown for a long time. She’s been great. I have a lot of aches and pains, in my shoulder, my neck, my back, my side…. You know, the usual for a 78 year old woman with a little bit of arthritis and a touch of osteoporosis. Whatever gentle adjustments she makes, it seems to help me with my flexibility and to be pain-free for the week. I know it’s maintenance treatment, but it’s really worthwhile to me. My husband and I leave town for 6 months of the year. We recently found a young chiropractor to see near our other home. He really helped me feel better during my first visit with a gentle adjustment. During the second visit, he did a bit of traction and it really helped the pain I was having in my side that day. The thing is, he left the room and came back and then told me that he can’t treat me anymore, that I have too many problems. He suggested acupuncture instead. Doctor, I feel like I’ve been fired as a patient and told that I am a hopeless case. He gave me no explanation other than that I have too much wrong with me. Now, I know that my problems are no worse than a lot of women my age. What should I do?
Dear Feeling Rejected:
Let’s first start with that feeling of rejection. Even if this doctor has made a decision that you are a “hopeless case,” does that make it true? Even doctors can be wrong about their medical decisions and that’s why people seek second opinions. You already have a chiropractor at home who is willing to treat you…and, not only that, her treatments appear to be beneficial in easing your pain. Even the treatments of the chiropractor that “fired” you seemed to be beneficial to you in easing your pain. Therefore, I would suggest that you seek the opinion of another chiropractor near your second home, rather than just giving up.
You stated that you feel awful and you describe yourself as Feeling Rejected. This tells me that you have taken this chiropractor’s medical decision personally. You seem to see it as an overall judgment of you as a person. This is where you’re creating an irrational story that isn’t based in reality. Your chiropractor’s medical opinion of your back really has nothing to do with your worth as a person. And even if he does see some strange association between his ability to treat you with your worth as a person (I doubt that he really does, but let’s just say this hypothetically), does that make it true that you aren’t worthwhile if he can’t treat you? How he feels about you is really his own business and not yours. It doesn’t reflect the reality of who you really are.
This is where looking at your own thoughts is very important. What you think about determines how you feel. The event of being turned away by this chiropractor is not what makes you feel badly. It’s what you’re telling yourself about this event that makes you feel badly. If you believe that you must be approved of by everyone in your life, especially people whom you hold in high esteem, such as doctors, then you will feel pretty lousy when they don’t treat you with approval (or somehow telling you that you’re a “bad patient” because they feel they can’t treat you). Try this instead. Say to yourself, “It’s nice when I’m approved of by the important people in my life, but if they don’t approve of me it surely doesn’t mean anything bad about me as a human being and, furthermore, I’ll be just fine without their approval.” Now, how does this feel? I’m guessing that you might still feel a bit disappointed… maybe even annoyed that you have to find a new chiropractor when you kind of liked the methods of this one. But would you feel terrible or worthless? I doubt it. You might even come to the conclusion that this young chiropractor is just not experienced enough to handle complicated situations like yours. In fact, you might realize that perhaps you might do better with an older, more experienced chiropractor.
I would like to add, Feeling, that the situation that you have described in not uncommon. Unfortunately, it’s frequent that older patients are turned away by health care practitioners because there is a belief that they are untreatable and a fear of lawsuits when touching someone who may have several health issues. I think you would feel more empowered if you were to assert yourself with this chiropractor. That is, ask him firmly, but calmly, the exact reasons why he turned you away as a patient. In addition, you might ask him for referrals to other chiropractors in the area who may be more willing to treat you. You have a right to know what he considers untreatable about you and you also have a right to be given referrals. I think this process of asserting yourself will help you to regain your feeling of empowerment, it will give you the ability to see that you have options and that you’re not hopeless, and it will let this chiropractor know that perhaps he didn’t handle this situation the best way that he could have.