A Rash Of Bad Advice

| California, USA | Working | June 10, 2013

(I have been suffering from mild back pain for a week, but on a Friday, the pain gets to be so bad I can hardly stand at work. Since my doctor’s office is closed after 3 pm on Fridays for the weekend, I call their 24-hour advice nurse.)

Advice Nurse: “How can I help you today?”

Me: “I’ve got some back pain that is so bad I can barely stand up, and I noticed today there’s a mild rash around the area of the pain, as well as on my abdomen.”

Advice Nurse: “Where on the back is your pain? If it’s your lower back, it might be a bladder infection.”

Me: “It is on my lower back, but only on the left side… same with my rash.”

Advice Nurse: “I think it might be a bladder infection, then. Do you have problems urinating? Any blood? Constant urge to go?”

Me: “No, no, and no. I’ve had bladder infections before. I am certain this is not a bladder infection.”

Advice Nurse: “Well, drink lots of cranberry juice and go in for a urine test on Monday. You’ll get antibiotics to nip that infection in the bud.”

(On Saturday, before I can go to the doctor, I notice the rash has expanded and started blistering. At this point, I recognize the symptoms as shingles, and call the advice nurse line back. The same nurse answers.)

Me: “I called yesterday about the back pain and the rash. The rash has started blistering, and the pain is even worse. I think I might have shingles. Is there anything I can do to relieve the pain before I see the doctor on Monday?”

Advice Nurse: “According to your records, you’re only 22. You can’t have shingles; that’s an old-person disease. Take an ibuprofen for the pain, but get that urine test done on Monday. It’ll clear the pain right up.”

(I go to the doctor first thing Monday morning, resigning myself to the fact that I have to pay for the urine test as well as not get paid for a day of work.)

Doctor: “What seems to be the problem?”

Me: “I’ve had back pain for a little over a week now on my lower left back, but it got serious on Friday. I also developed a blistering rash where the pain is located. When I called the advice nurse, she told me to get a urine test done because she suspected a bladder infection.”

Doctor: “Wait, what? Pain on one side of the body, with a blistering rash? That sounds like shingles. And I know you work 60+ hours a week, so even though you’re younger than most people with shingles, you’re a prime patient for the disease. Lift up your shirt for a minute.”

(She gets one glimpse at my rash, and confirms that it’s shingles.)

Doctor: “That advice nurse is an idiot. She should have known better. I’m waving your fees for the urine test, since it wasn’t needed, and for the hassle, I’m waving your fees for the blood work.”

(She leaves the room, muttering about the idiocy of some people in the medical field. When I went in for my follow-up, my doctor said they replaced the nurse.)

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