Health and Fitness Column

What to do if an injury is not healing

By John Taylor | Feb 18, 2014
Photo by: File John Taylor

I was playing in a football game during my senior year of high school when I felt something that dramatically altered my life. Prior to the game, I was named an honorable mention high school All-American, and was being recruited to play ball at the next level. However, while attempting to recover a fumble, I dislocated my shoulder and was pinned underneath a number of other players.
When I stood up, I immediately grabbed my arm and popped my shoulder back in. Nobody noticed the injury, and since it was a close game, I elected not to tell my coaches about the injury and kept playing.
This was a stupid move on my part. By the end of the game, my shoulder came out an additional four times, and I even gave up a touchdown because of my inability to wrap-up on a tackle near the goal line.
After realizing the injury needed to be evaluated, I met with an orthopedic surgeon. He told me that I didn’t really separate my shoulder, and I just probably had a partial dislocation. Right away, I wanted a second opinion. At 18 years-old, I wasn’t a doctor, but based on the pain, loss of sensation, and the bone-grinding I felt, I knew my shoulder just experienced a significant injury.
After the consultation, my doctor recommended physical therapy to heal the injury. However, after visiting the same doctor again for my eight-week check-up, I explained to him that my shoulder was still dislocating, even during my physical therapy sessions.
My doctor then asked, “Are you doing all of the exercises the physical therapist is asking you to, or are you being a baby about it?” Seriously, that is what the doctor asked. My response, and I quote, “From the looks of it, if anyone is being a baby about exercising, it is you, sir.” Granted, it was a knock on his current level of physical fitness, but since he knew how important playing college football was to me, I consider this an unfair comment.
I then told the doctor my goal of being ready for the beginning of training camp in August, which at that time was seven months away. I asked him to perform a surgery to repair the injury so that I could be healed and rehabbed in time for the first day of practice.
He refused, and said we should give rehab another chance to see if it heals that injury. I said that is not what I wanted because there weren’t any guarantees I would respond to the treatment and surgery would put me in a better position to be ready by August because the procedure had a six month recovery time. To this, my doctor said, “You aren’t the doctor, you are the patient. You don’t tell a doctor what to do.”
As I’ve gotten older, I come to resent this conversation. Being a doctor in private practice requires a level of customer service. If you get a sports-related injury, and have done the research to find an alternate course of treatment, your doctor better explore that avenue with you or risk losing your business.
If I had been better educated at the time, I would have told this doctor that according to a 2013 study performed by the University of Washington School of Medicine, patients that experience multiple shoulder dislocations within a one-year period are 700 times more likely to experience another dislocation again if they lead an active lifestyle and elect to not have surgery.
If you feel that your injury isn’t healing properly, your activity levels are being compromised, and your doctor is refusing to offer an alternate treatment plan, you have the right to go get another medical provider. Why in the world would you pay for a service that isn’t providing you with positive outcomes? Because in the end, that is what medical practices are … a service that you pay for.
Don’t get me wrong, customer service should never override a doctor’s ethical code. According to a 2007 study from the National Institutes of Health, only 22.6 percent of doctors diagnosed an extremely overweight patient as obese, and the most common reason was because the medical provider didn’t want to upset their patient and lose their business. Do no harm, my tail. That’s not customer service, that is a doctor trying to make a buck.
In the end, it is not the doctor who has to live with the pain and lack of performance caused by an injury, it is the patient. And if you aren’t getting what you want out of one doctor, go to another one.
In this case, doctor shopping isn’t a bad thing.