By: Matt Cavallo
I remember as if it were yesterday: January, 2007. I was sitting in my neurologist’s office after suffering my third relapse in eighteen months. At that moment, I felt that my MS was a runaway locomotive barreling down the tracks and I needed to somehow find the emergency brake.
My neurologist at the time was new to my case because my previous neurologist took a new position as a stroke specialist at a Boston hospital. I was in to see my new neurologist because I needed to switch medicines due to an allergy I had developed to interferon.
Prior to this visit, I had researched a breakthrough new treatment that had only been on the market for six months. This treatment had been voluntarily removed from the market due to unforeseen deaths during clinical trials and had just received FDA approval for a re-launch in the summer of 2006. Despite the risk associated with this treatment, it showed potential to be the emergency brake that I needed to stop the runaway MS train.
I took control of the conversation in my neurologist’s office right away, “Doctor, I have been reading online about the available options now that I can’t take interferon treatments. After comparing the two other options, I want to try Tysabri.”
There was a long, uncomfortable pause. Then he leaned forward and pushed his glasses up his nose towards his brow and said, “Matt, while I appreciate your research there is not enough published data on this new treatment. There were complications during clinical trials. I am not comfortable prescribing this treatment at this time. Not when there is a safe treatment option with a proven track record still available to you.”
I felt like I just took a gut punch and got my wind knocked out. I sat slumped for a minute in disbelief. He leaned back in his chair and continued, “I am going to write you a prescription.”
“Doctor,” I interrupted, “with all due respect, it is my body. I am in charge of what I put into it. This new treatment is showing great promise and I want to try it.”
“Well Matthew, I am not going to write you a script for it. You still have a platform option that may work equally well. Let’s start you on that.”
“Doctor, I am not going to start that treatment until I get a second opinion.”
Now, his demeanor changed. I could tell he wasn’t used to that kind of patient response. He recoiled, “Very well Matthew, if that is your decision I respect your wishes.”
With that, I left his office and after some more research, I found an MS specialist in Boston. I called her office and she said that she wanted to evaluate my case. I just needed a referral from my primary doctor to go and see her. So, I went to visit my primary care doctor and asked her for a referral.
“No,” snapped my primary doctor. “Our doctors, in our system on the South Shore are every bit as good as the ones in Boston.”
No? Why was everyone making this so hard on me? I didn’t understand what I had to do to get the treatment I wanted and was frustrated that everyone in the healthcare system was seemingly against me.
I called up the Boston MS Specialist again and broke the news that I couldn’t get a referral.
“Matt,” said the MS Specialist, “I am going to reach out to your primary doctor directly and ask for a one-time second opinion referral. Then, you are going to come in and see me and we will find you a new primary doctor that will refer you to me.”
This was eight years ago this month in February of 2007. That month, I started that new treatment and applied the emergency brake to my runaway MS train. This eight year anniversary also marked my decision to be my own healthcare advocate. It took a lot of courage to say no to the doctors, but in the end I felt like I took control of my own health. Today, I have great open relationships with my healthcare providers and we make decisions together as a team.
The previous blog is the author’s real life experience and his personal treatment decision. This is not an advertisement for any particular treatment. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another person. Please consult with your doctor to decide as a team what treatment option works best for you.
*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/
I think the first time is always the hardest, or so they say. Saying ‘no’ to our doctors for the first time takes a lot of strength and I hope people reading this understand the importance of your words. It gets easier after we have done it once and experienced the empowerment of tajing control of our health care. Thanks for sharing this lesson, Matt.
Laura, I couldn’t agree with you more: saying no the first time is always the most difficult. When I left the doctor’s office after I said I wanted a second opinion, I felt bad like I did something wrong. It wasn’t until I saw my new doctor that I knew I made the right decision. After learning this lesson saying no, when appropriate, and becoming my own health advocate has definitely become easier.