I thought I would share my experience of a battle I’m fighting tooth and nail right now, one that involves a severe phobia of medical professionals (excluding those who work in the mental health field, fortunately). From what I understand the clinical term for this is iatrophobia, and I have all of the symptoms. I apologize for the long post, but I want to make sure I drive home the point of exactly how excrutiating it’s been for me. I would love to connect with others on here who may have this problem.
I should probably begin with a brief medical history, so here it goes: At 13, I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed Zoloft which I’ve taken since then. In 2006, I was diagnosed with OCD and anxiety and even went through a period in 2009 where I frequently suffered panic attacks, for which I was prescribed 0.5 to 1 miligram of Klonopin to take as needed. Thankfully, these episodes have since subsided, but occasionally I still have to take a Klonopin for anxiety, though I only do so when I absolutely need it.
In February 2012, I was diagnosed at 26 with a blood clot on my heart the size of a pecan, which caused congestive heart failure. Doctors still don’t know what caused it. I had always previously been physically healthy, have no congenital heart problems, etc. They also never knew what came first, the clot or the CHF. I spent two weeks in the hospital on heparin and other meds until it dissolved. I thankfully recovered, and, with the exception of this new problem I’m going to tell you about, I’ve been doing fantastic since then. For a few years now I’ve been swimming at the local gym an hour a day whenever I’m able to do so. I hadn’t attended lately due to my return to college, but now that I’ve passed all of my courses I’ll return to the gym once this coronavirus situation subsides. I had also been put on many different medications, a couple of which I still take today just to be on the safe side (including a small dose of lisinopril which regulates my blood pressure).
I’ve always had a bit of anxiety in any medical atmosphere, but somehow I was always able to keep it at bay, even in the hospital being treated for the congestive heart failure, and even during the yearly checkups I’ve had with my cardiologist since then. I now look back upon that period of my life, at an utter loss for understanding just how I was able to remain so brave.
Everything changed on September 24, 2018. I went to the local oral surgeon to finally get a wisdom tooth removed that had developed a cavity. I was a bit anxious the night before, and I didn’t sleep. But I honestly thought everything would go smoothly and that I might would fall asleep on my own shortly before or during the procedure. While there, however, my anxiety suddenly spiked, and my blood pressure remained at around 180. The nurse told the oral surgeon who sent me to the stat care clinic nearby due to his concerns. While there, I endured more blood pressure checks, all with similar results. The doctor entered the room and remarked, almost gleefully, that high blood pressure is the “silent killer” and that I needed to get it down. He ordered an electrocardiogram, the results of which had also been skewered by my anxiety and told my mother that I needed to be hospitalized, because I “could have heart failure.”
Logically, I knew deep down that I was having an episode of severe anxiety and was otherwise fine physically. But by that point it had snowballed into pure terror that was completely consuming me. It causes me anxiety, even now, to write about that day, because I can starkly remember how petrified I was and the utter helplessness I felt. My mother and I consistently tried to tell the doctors and nurses that I was having a panic attack and that I was physically okay. But each time, it fell upon deaf ears. I’ve always been very close to my mother, but by that point even she couldn’t reassure me.
I was then sent to the ER and given a gurney to lie on, and they attached a blood pressure monitor and IV after which I finally started to relax. My blood pressure and heart rate gradually subsided, thankfully, and I was released a little later that night with a clear bill of health.
Throughout that entire day I had been confronted at literally every corner by doctors and nurses, none of whom would take into consideration how terrified I clearly was or even explain what was happening to me. Not ONCE did ANY of them even tell me that I would be okay (that simple action would have probably helped me so much).
The last thing I want to do is trivialize the experiences of actual assault victims, but that day at the stat care clinic, all I could think was, “This is what it must feel like to be assaulted by a gang of people.” That whole day, I had been confronted at literally every corner by uncaring doctors and nurses examining me and invading my personal space. They had me believing 100% that I was on the verge of having a stroke, aneurysm, heart attack, dying, etc. I just wanted to repeatedly scream at every one of them to leave me alone. It all happened so fast, but I didn’t think the prolonged episode of terror I was embroiled in would end. I would rather die than feel that level of terror again. I would rather die than feel the fear of dying. I know that sounds absolutely crazy, but as we all know, OCD never makes any sense. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but I know I need to be brutally honest about my feelings.
I later discovered, through my own research, that I was having a “hypertensive crisis,” which was distressing to read about, because the fear of this happening to me again lingers in the back of my mind whenever I feel the slightest bit anxious. I previously had no idea that a panic attack could increase someone’s blood pressure so dramatically.
The events of that day have caused me to develop an extreme phobia of visiting any doctor (excluding mental health professionals) and of having my blood pressure taken, because I fear that the results will be high even at home where I’m most relaxed. Lately, I’ve thoroughly been researching this condition, known as “iatrophobia,” and I have all of the symptoms. From what I’ve read it’s common to develop this condition after a traumatic medical experience. I’ve looked online for support groups dedicated entirely to this issue, but so far I’ve found none.
I know I should have faced this fear head-on MUCH sooner, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be taken seriously or understood. Worse, I feared being dismissed or accused of overreacting or faking it for attention, which I would absolutely never do. I was afraid that my health care providers wouldn’t have the time or patience to deal with me. It’s only yesterday that I finally opened up to my parents about it. Previously, I just kept ignoring the problem, hoping against hope it would disappear on its own. I’m embarrassed and ashamed that I have to go into such personal details about my mental state to so many people, but this isn’t just the usual reluctance to go to the doctor. I thought I simply had developed white coat syndrome, but I now know it’s much, much worse than that.
I’ve always liked my cardiologist and his nurse, and they are actually aware of my history of anxiety. But now that my phobia has spiraled out of control and become so irrational I can’t describe in words how much I’m dreading my yearly checkup with him on June the first. I’ve been crying on and off, and I desperately wish I could reschedule my appointment with him until I have a few sessions with a therapist, but I’m concerned that I won’t be given my prescriptions this time around since it would be my second time rescheduling (the first time I had to do so was in March due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus). I did attend my checkup with him last year, but I remained nearly as petrified as I was the day I went to get my tooth removed. I even pretended that I had to go to the bathroom while waiting on him to stop by my room, because I knew my anxiety had affected the results of my blood pressure and electrocardiogram readings, and I just could not face being given what I thought would be frightening news. I texted my mother telling her to inform me of what he had to say. But she replied that since I’m an adult the doctor would need to speak with me directly. Fortunately, he didn’t make a big deal about the results, because he knew I was very anxious that day (right after the hospitalization incident we had called his nurse and told her everything that had happened). As I’ve said, however, the phobia remains despite the fact that my doctor and nurse are aware of the problem.
I want more than anything to overcome this fear, both for myself and for everyone else who’s been affected by it. I believe I can overcome it, but I know I’ll need to work with a therapist using aggressive cognitive behavioral therapy. I’ve successfully undergone this treatment before for unrelated anxiety issues, so I know what to expect with regard to that. But other than finding a therapist and waiting on an appointment I’ve been at a loss regarding what else I should do. A couple of days ago I had a long talk with my parents, and we decided that maybe I should contact my doctor ahead of time, so that I can talk to him through email about just how badly this problem has gotten. I desperately wish I could postpone my appointment just a bit longer, but if I must go I think I would be able to keep my anxiety under control a bit better if he knew beforehand about how much I’ve been tormented by this burden.
I wasn’t able to find an email address for him or even a Facebook profile, but I did find his nurse on Facebook, and I sent her a private message detailing exactly the same things I’ve written here. I asked her if she could give me his email address so that I could contact him, or if she could have him read the message I sent her, or if she could talk to him about it. However, she hasn’t yet responded.
The last thing I want is to be difficult, but I need to take baby steps in facing this problem. I need for others to be understanding and to allow me to do things at my own pace. I know that most medical doctors are probably unaware of how to treat extremely anxious patients. I don’t blame them for this, but it’s very frustrating, because I feel like I have to go out on a limb to get the care I need. I feel like I’m becoming a burden to them.
A few days ago I asked my mother to order one of those small blood pressure monitors that attaches to the wrist. So far, I haven’t gathered the courage to take my blood pressure, but I have been wearing the device around my wrist in order to become accustomed to the feel of it. My plan within the next several days is to have my mother take my blood pressure with it after I’ve fallen asleep. I’m hoping the number will be normal which would probably give me the gumption I desperately need to start taking it frequently myself.
All the continuing news coverage about coronavirus isn’t helping, either. I’m afraid I’ll catch it if I go to the doctor. I plan to wear gloves and a mask, though that makes me feel slightly claustrophobic.
To further demonstrate how bad this phobia has gotten I should probably mention that I had what appeared to be an upper respiratory infection back in early January, and I’m now wondering if it actually was coronavirus. I started off feeling like I was developing a head cold, but by that night I felt a bit like I was suffocating which alarmed me enough to keep me awake. Fortunately, this sensation had subsided by the next day, but then came the non-stop coughing along with it. Towards the end of the illness I developed a metallic taste in my mouth whenever I coughed up the mucus, but all of my symptoms had subsided after a little over a week of self-care. Despite all of this, however-you guessed it-I didn’t go to the doctor, so I guess I’ll never know for sure what the culprit was.
Any questions, comments, or words of support would be greatly appreciated. Do you agree with the way I’m handling this phobia so far, or do you feel I’m going about it the wrong way? Please feel free to be as honest as necessary.