Anxiety about health issues while waiting to see a doctor.
April 2, 2012 1:18 PM   Subscribe

I recently got a job and health insurance. Hooray. Now I can afford to see a doctor for some medical concerns I’ve had and let go for too long because I didn’t have insurance and they didn’t seem pressing. However, I can’t get in to see a doctor for at least a month or more, and for some reason, now that I do have insurance and have to wait so long to see someone, I’m suddenly having tremendous anxiety about my health. Help me put this in perspective and/or figure out what to do. Details about my specific concerns and situation inside.

I just got a job and health insurance after being without for about a year. Because I haven’t had health insurance for some time, I have put off dealing with some health concerns I have. Not the smartest move, and I’m feeling pretty guilty about it, but I simply could not afford to pay out of pocket. I was hoping I would be able to see a doc shortly after my insurance kicked in to alleviate my fears, but alas, it isn’t looking that way.

One kicker is, the training for this job involves spending a couple months quite far away from where I live (not close enough to drive up for a doctor visit). So I can’t make an appointment with a doctor I’ve had in the past until I’m back home, and none of the clinics in the (very small) town I’m currently in are taking new patients, or if they are, there is a six week wait, by which time I will be back home and can see my old doctor.

I don’t think my issues are really urgent care qualified (details below), and though they’ve been in the back of mind for some months, my anxiety about them, now that I could see someone but can’t, has really peaked – to the point that I’m feeling panicky and obsessing over it.

First I should mention that I have ongoing relatively serious anxiety issues, which I have been treated for in the past, and for which I currently have a Clonazepam (Klonopin) prescription for, and which I have been paying for out of pocket. I don’t think this is really helping my anxiety much anymore and doesn’t seem a very sustainable solution – and one of my first priorities when I get home will be to see a therapist/psychiatrist about this.

(Embarrassing TMI Warning and YANAD/YANMD): My biggest concerns are these: about six months ago or so, I got a small brown dot near the tip of my penis. It looks just like a freckle, is very small, is not raised or irregular, and has not changed. I also noticed I have a small sort of brown line-shaped spot on the underside of my penis. I had the full STD profile done just before I lost my health insurance (all fine), and have not had interactions since that could have caused me to get an STD, so I reasonably think it isn’t that. I wasn’t concerned at first and figured it was just a freckle, but now I’ve read too many things on the internet and am now terrified I have penile cancer or some such thing and that I’ve waited too long to get it diagnosed and am greatly endangering my life. The only way to feel at ease is to get it checked, which, like I’ve said, is probably six weeks out.

My other concern is that I used to be on Cymbalta – for a year and a half, between the ages of 25 and 26 (I am now 27). I also drank frequently during this time. My psychiatrist knew this and never seemed too concerned. I realize in retrospect that this was counterproductive and also very risky to my health and completely stupid. But alas. So I’ve been reading all of these things on the internet about Cymbalta’s liver warnings, and I am now scared I have damaged my liver severely and I’d like to have a liver profile done. I’ve been off the Cymbalta for 8 months, and have decreased my drinking to very little (a couple times a month, if that), and have generally improved my health considerably. But I’m worried that some damage has already been done. Again, I can’t get this checked out for six weeks or so.

I was scared to see a doctor because I am embarrassed I have let these things go so long, and when I finally got the insurance and worked up the courage to try to schedule an appointment this morning (I called every clinic in town), I was devastated to find it would be more than a month until I can see someone. I seem to have convinced myself that I have two life-threatening conditions, and that my prognosis is worsening by the day. As I’ve gotten more anxious, I’ve read more things on the internet and it’s sent me into full-on terrified that I need to see a doctor immediately or I’ll die type situation.

Am I just being a bit of a hypochondriac? Overly anxious? I admit that my anxiety is higher than normal, as I’m starting a new job and living in an unfamiliar place with none of my usual support people close by. How can I remain calm about these things until I am able to see a doctor about them? Is there anything else I can do other than breathe deep and wait out the six weeks to see my doctor? My health insurance offers a free 24-hour RN call line. Is it worth calling them and talking to a nurse?

I’m sorry that I sound a little discombobulated. I’m just not sure what to do.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (4 answers total)
It's totally worth calling the 24 hour nurse helpline. That's why they're there. I've called them for quite a few things that I didn't think were 'doctor worthy', but I didn't know how to handle on my own.

If they feel that the issue is pressing or urgent, they'll tell you.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:35 PM on April 2, 2012

Stay away from the internet! Seriously, trying to diagnose yourself on the internet does nothing but make you a terrified cyberchondriac. I really would not worry about these things until you can see your doctor. Nothing sounds urgent to me.
posted by Falwless at 2:04 PM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seconded re 24-hour RN hotline. With caveat that they sometimes err on the side of not getting sued, so if they refuse to tell you you're 100% guaranteed healthy, don't take the refusal personally.

I do not have a penis, but other, unrelated bits of me sometimes develop little brown markings, and when I show them to medical professionals, mentioning my family skin cancer history, their concern level is zero. Such marks are commonly a side effect of AWWOOL (aging while white or otherwise light-skinned). If the marks were red, raised, and changing, then you'd need a biopsy stat.

Re liver disease: even if you did damage your liver, the damage isn't likely to be severe. You're not turning yellow or anything, right? Even if the damage is severe, when you get the profile done they'll probably tell you that your days of heavy drinking are behind you permanently, and not to hope for any Rasputin-like survivals of poisoning attempts. Since you're a stranger in a one-horse town, away from your loved ones and kin, odds are no one will bother to poison you before that anyhow.

IANAD, but yeah, I reckon this is totally situational (plus the anti-anxiety meds not working). There's a relatively-unembarrassing self-help book called The Worry Trap featuring enough helpful exercises to last you a good six weeks. Seriously, do the exercises. (And remember that your hypochondria/discombobulation is situational, not a character defect.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:11 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

As feral_goldfish points out, this is probably more of an anxiety problem than a physical health problem. As I tell my clients, the biggest enemy of anxiety is reliable information. People with anxiety get stuck on the "avoid" side of the approach/avoid scale, and then things blow up to larger-than-realistic proportions. You were able to not worry about this stuff before, because there was a solid impediment to getting care. Now that you CAN get the care, you have to wait to get the information you want, and that's elevating your anxiety level.

The problem with using benzos for anxiety is that you'll develop tolerance and just start taking them to avoid withdrawal. That being said, the best way to come off of them is with a doctor's supervision. And, there are definitely some great anxiety workbooks out there. David Burns has an anxiety workbook that has spurred some good recommendations from clients. Sounds like the Worry Trap is a good one, too.

It sounds like, along with a physician appointment, it might be a good idea to make an appointment with a therapist, too. Those can take a while, just like doctor appointments. You'll know you have things set up, and those six weeks will go by quickly as you do the exercises in your workbook.

Best of luck!
posted by apollo at 3:59 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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