Has A Bad Ring(worm) To It

, , , , , | Healthy | May 2, 2019

CONTENT WARNING: This story contains content of a medical nature. It is not intended as medical advice.

When I was very young, my family lived in a rural area where we only had access to one clinic that took our health insurance. While we could have driven into the city — about three hours — if there had ever been a situation that the clinic couldn’t handle or if we’d needed a special consultation, for the most part, my parents stuck with the local clinic. The clinic was very small; I don’t believe that there were ever more than four doctors on staff, and most of them were not there full time. Although the clinic tried to hire doctors who practiced family medicine — so they could see all ages of patients — there was one pediatrician on staff, and because of this, my brother and I were just automatically sent to him, as were most kids in our area. He often rushed through appointments and was impatient when my parents had questions, although since my brother and I were generally healthy kids, our family didn’t have too many issues with him… until I was four.

When I was four, I developed a strange rash on my neck, back, and legs. My mom took me to the clinic, where the pediatrician took one look and said that I had ringworm. He prescribed a salve, an oral antifungal medication, and an antifungal shampoo, since the rash on my neck was near my hairline and ringworm can cause permanent hair loss if it develops on your scalp. I was on the medication for over a month before the symptoms subsided, and we thought that it was over… until I had another rash a few months after that. And a few months after that. The doctor kept prescribing the same regime every time. I was miserable because the oral medication messed up my stomach, and my parents were driving themselves crazy trying to sanitize anything that I ever came into contact with to hopefully prevent a recurrence and to avoid my brother getting infected.

This happened about four times over the course of two years; although my parents asked if there could possibly be something else going on, since ringworm is not supposed to be a chronic condition, the doctor blew them off every time and essentially told them not to question his authority, since he’d gone to school for this and they hadn’t. He was very condescending, and when my parents asked for advice, he’d just repeat stuff about hygiene and washing up. My parents had actually just decided to take me into the city for a second opinion if I had another rash when the usual doctor stepped down and we got a new one.

My parents brought my brother and me in for our flu shots, and the new doctor noticed the beginnings of the rash on my arm. He asked my parents about it, and they told him that they weren’t interested in putting me on the same antifungals since they clearly weren’t working and were just making me miserable. He was confused and asked why I’d be on antifungals for eczema. A couple of quick tests confirmed that he was correct, that I definitely didn’t have ringworm, and instead of multiple infections, I had one condition that flared up every few months. I got a prescription for an anti-inflammatory cream, and the doctor suggested that my mom change our laundry detergent, and then the rash was handled. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

The new doctor checked my file and confirmed that the old doctor hadn’t done any testing to diagnose me the first time — no black-light test, no biopsies or cultures, nothing — and had just marked that it visually presented as ringworm. Each subsequent time I came in, the old doctor stuck to that rather than reassess. After that, my parents requested a copy of my file, and then saw the notes that the old doctor had made, which basically amounted to him complaining about working with dirty, poor, uneducated families who couldn’t keep their kids clean. He hadn’t bothered to do any further testing when my parents told him that they’d complied with all his suggestions for how to make sure that I didn’t catch “ringworm” again, because he just assumed that anyone who lived in our rural area must be a dumb, ignorant hick who couldn’t really value hygiene.

My parents were furious. We later learned that he had been asked to step down from his position in the clinic precisely because he’d had this attitude with most of the families who came into the clinic, and had said as much to one of the nurses, not realizing that a patient had overheard. One of the things he must not have realized about smaller communities like ours is that word spreads like wildfire. Dozens of families were suddenly requesting records for their children, and people found multiple stories like mine where the pediatrician diagnosed without testing, or made assumptions about families that impacted the way he handled their treatment. There was a community-wide effort to send complaints to the state medical board. I know that there was at least one successful lawsuit against him, and last I heard, that pediatrician’s license to practice medicine was revoked.

Meanwhile, our new doctor treated my eczema, saved my brother’s life during an allergic reaction, became a hero in our community for doing house calls, and has received state-wide recognition for being willing to go above and beyond for his patients.

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