“I have pain in my right calf muscle,” I said during a routine physical.
“You will need an ultrasound to rule out a blood clot,” the doctor responded.
That was not the answer I expected to hear. I thought she would suggest a few leg stretches and then send me on my way.
Eighteen months later my calf muscle pain is still an unsolved medical mystery.
I wish I could remember the exact moment when the pain began.
Six different doctors have also asked me this question. Maybe if I knew it would help them figure out what is wrong with me, as despite a plethora of test results I still don’t have a diagnosis.
The pain is mild. But like a mother nagging a child to pick up their toys, it is persistent and annoying. At first I thought it was a muscle strain or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) from working out.
I’m a fitness fanatic. I try to work out six days a week, an hour or more per day. Mild pain is often synonymous with an intense level of fitness. So, I lived with it, but my primary doctor referred me to a specialist—an orthopedic surgeon. The x-rays he ordered were normal.
“I don’t know why you are having pain. It’s weird. A muscle strain should have healed by now even with exercise,” he said as he examined my leg. “Plus the pain doesn’t get worse when you exercise. You could get an MRI and try physical therapy.”
Is weird a medical term? Can you refund my forty dollar co-pay?
My primary care doctor did not care for the use of the word “weird” to describe my pain so she referred me to another orthopedic surgeon.
Before the appointment, I had an MRI which showed inflammation in the calf muscle.
“I don’t see a tear or anything I could repair with surgery. I’m referring you to a rheumatologist.”
According to my Google searching throughout eighteen months of medical appointments, a rheumatologist is a doctor who treats musculoskeletal disease and systemic autoimmune conditions commonly referred to as rheumatic diseases. These diseases can affect the joints, muscles, and bones causing pain, swelling, stiffness, and deformity.
The rheumatologist took my case seriously. She spent over an hour asking me questions about possible symptoms and my family history of diseases.
“This is intriguing,” she kept saying.
“On a positive note you are the first patient I’ve seen that doesn’t have back pain,” she said with a smile.
She casually mentioned I might have, “myositis” but then said, “It’s unlikely.”
My Google search revealed myositis is a condition causing inflammation throughout the body which is an autoimmune disease. Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can cause a mild form of myositis. I believed I had one of these diseases since a muscle strain had been ruled out and she hadn’t presented any other options.
It took two weeks to receive the blood test results. While I waited, I read over a hundred different articles about myositis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, certain I would be diagnosed with one. I wanted an answer to why I had pain and how to get rid of it but I didn’t want an autoimmune disease. Fortunately, all my blood tests were normal which I was relieved about, but I still was left without an answer.
At the same time I was seeing the rheumatologist I also saw a physiatrist. Unlike a psychiatrist, a physiatrist is a medical doctor who treats patients with orthopedic conditions but doesn’t perform surgery and does not deal with mental health issues. She considered the possibility of a nerve issue and ordered an MRI of my back even though I didn’t have back pain. When the MRI came back normal, she suggested I continue to see the rheumatologist since she didn’t know what was causing my pain.
“There is nothing to indicate you have a rheumatologically related disorder. I would like to refer you an orthopedic surgeon,” the rheumatologist said.
Are you kidding me? I’ve already been to two different orthopedic surgeons.
I scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician, hoping she would have a better solution. She didn’t. She said if the rheumatologist was suggesting it, then maybe I should try seeing another one. So I did. I’ve only met her once, so she hasn’t made a diagnosis yet but she also hasn’t referred me to another doctor either.
My medical journey has been one of patience, disappointment, hope and resilience. Besides learning about new medical specialties and disease, I’ve learned is to be more patient with myself. I tend to be hard on myself when I don’t have the answer. When my kids cry, I would berate myself for being a horrible mother. As they grew older, I blamed myself for being unable to solve their problems. But this experience taught me it’s okay to not have an answer.
I saw seven different doctors including my primary doctor. They didn’t have an answer for me and they had no problem with referring me to see someone else or using the word “weird” to describe my issue.
Maybe it’s time to see doctor number eight. I know I’ll get my answer someday.