You’ve Been Injured and You Need a Doctor? Here are Some Tips
DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor and this paper is not intended to give medical advice. If you are injured you should see medical professionals and follow their advice. This paper is intended solely to help the reader understand the role his or her attorney can play in helping to find the right doctor and/or the right treatment for a given injury or condition.
Even though I am a personal injury attorney, I spend a great part of my time advising clients on their medical care and helping them understand what is happening to them medically. Time and time again, my involvement in my clients’ medical decisions has proven beneficial in helping them choose treatment options, helping them select the right kind of medical specialist, and in resolving their pain. This paper will help you understand the role of your personal injury attorney in your medical care.
HOW YOUR PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEY CAN HELP
During the early part of your claim your attorney is far more valuable to you in guiding you through the medical issues than the legal ones. This is because, in our work as personal injury attorneys, we have read thousands of pages of medical records, operative reports, EMG/NCS reports, and other diagnostics such as MRI’s and CT-SCANS. We have also represented hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have suffered similar injuries. We know from experience how doctors who specialize in their fields treat each type of injury, as well as what tests and procedures are indicated by a given patient’s condition or injury. We understand the protocols of trauma treatment, from the multi-tiered approach of muscle relaxants, pain medicine, anti-inflammatories, and physical therapy, to the indications for further testing such as MRI’s or nerve conduction studies, and the indications for when a specialist such as an orthopedic, plastic surgeon, neurologist, or psychologist may be needed.
SOME DOCTORS TREAT AGGRESSIVELY AND SOME DON’T
Our experience has taught us to know the difference between a doctor who is giving our client proper treatment and one who is not, either because he is not listening, he is not sympathetic to their pain, or because he simply has no experience in treating their type of injury. Frequently a new client will tell me she saw her doctor the day after the accident and her doctor advised her to take Motrin and to come back in two weeks if she was still in pain. This is bad advice in my opinion. For one thing, why should the patient be in pain for two weeks before she can see the doctor again? For another, why use just one tool, Motrin, to treat the symptoms, when there are several other modalities that can be applied?
Studies tell us that when one is involved in a traffic accident, the head and the entire body can be whipped violently backward and then forward at a high velocity. This whiplash action can, at the minimum, cause microscopic tears in connective tissue. This is typically called soft tissue injury. These tears in the connective tissue cause pain and swelling which in turn can lead to muscle spasms and stiffness to the point that the patient will experience trouble turning his head from side to side, bending over at the waist, or even in walking. The accepted treatment for these symptoms is pain medication, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, and physical therapy to promote blood flow to the injured areas and thereby accelerate the healing process. Your doctor should explain this to you and offer you the appropriate medications and therapy to relieve you of your pain as soon as possible.
SOME DOCTORS JUST DON’T LISTEN TO THEIR PATIENTS
Sometimes, your doctor is simply not listening to you or does not have time to craft the appropriate treatment plan for you. I once represented a woman whose rearview mirror broke in the accident, sending pieces of glass into her face. Some pieces penetrated the skin of her forehead. The emergency room physician removed what he thought was all of the glass and she followed up with her personal physician for treatment of her cuts and her other injuries. About a year later, she came into my office so that I could assess her situation and discuss her case with her. She mentioned that after all this time her forehead still hurt and she could feel a knot where the glass had entered her skin. I suspected she still had some glass under her skin and I advised her to go back to her doctor and tell him what she had told me. To my surprise, when she called back to report on her doctor visit, she told me that her doctor did not examine her but simply told her that the knot and pain were normal symptoms after such an injury. He assured her she would get better in time.
My experience with these types of injuries told me this is NOT normal and that, if she still had these symptoms one year after the accident, her symptoms were not going to simply go away on their own. I also knew from experience that glass under the skin is hard to locate because it will not show up on x-ray. A doctor has to know what he is doing and has to palpate (feel) for it. I referred her to a plastic surgeon who has helped some of my other clients. As soon as he palpated her forehead, he knew there were multiple pieces of foreign objects (glass) under the skin. He removed them right then and there and my client was finally able to get relief. This story teaches two lessons: 1. sometimes the attorney is better able than the doctor to make the correct diagnosis; and 2. the type of specialist you see can make a difference. In this case, the family physician did not have the experience necessary to deal with broken glass under the skin. It took a plastic surgeon to diagnose the problem and to excise the glass.
YOUR ATTORNEY KNOWS WHAT KIND OF SPECIALIST AND WHAT KIND OF DIAGNOSTIC IS BEST
As in the above example of the plastic surgeon, I frequently refer my clients to specialists who I believe are best suited to a given situation. Orthopedics, for example, are the go-to specialists for any bone or joint problem, including ligament and tendon damage, as well as knee, elbow, hand, wrist, shoulder and spine pain. However, if the spine pain involves the neck (cervical spine), it is sometimes best to consult with a neurologist. A neurologist is also the specialist to see for any nerve damage (neuroma) or closed head injury. A good personal injury attorney should also keep a list of reliable ESI doctors, plastic surgeons, pain management specialists, and psychologists/psychiatrists.
Knowing the right type of diagnostic examination that is called for can also be critical for the client. Nerve damage in any extremity can be easily diagnosed and isolated with an electromyography/ Nerve Conduction Study (EMG/NCS). Here, the quality of the equipment as well as the ability and experience of the doctor reading the findings is extremely important. I once represented a woman from out of town who had badly injured her arm in a car wreck. This was causing pain and weakness of her hand and fingers. I advised her to ask her physician to refer her to a neurologist and to ask the neurologist to order an EMG/NCS study. This was done and the findings came back normal. Knowing what I know from having seen these types of injuries before, I referred her to one of the best hand doctors in Houston. He did another EMG/NCS, this time using state of the art equipment, and was able to pinpoint the exact spot where the nerve was injured. He was able to excise it and my client’s pain went away.
PEACE OF MIND IN KNOWING YOUR ATTORNEY KNOWS WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT
Clients that come to see me for the first time quickly find out that I spend more time discussing their pain and treatment than legal or insurance issues. In the first few weeks after the accident, clients are far more concerned with their pain and recovery than they are about insurance details. After I explain that I have seen their exact injury many times before, I know what causes it, and that I have seen how doctors resolve this type of injury, they feel much better. Often times I can give them a preview of what they can expect to happen medically and how long it might take for them to make a recovery. If their doctor has already recommended surgery, chances are I can explain the procedure in far greater detail than the doctor has time to. If they have had surgery, such as an Open Reduction Internal Fixation procedure (ORIF), I can tell them what is involved in recovery and when and why their doctor may decide it is time to take out the screws. I re-assure them that this procedure is relatively painless and is a minor procedure done in the doctor’s office. Having someone that can go into greater detail and explain things in terms they can understand can give a client great peace of mind. Knowing that I have seen this type of injury many times before and that I have seen people make full recoveries from them also gives them comfort.
Some of the most rewarding moments of practicing personal injury law have been those times when I have helped a client with a medical problem rather than a legal problem. There is no better feeling than knowing that I have been able to guide a client to the right doctor or the right procedure that resolved their pain. May you find the right answers as you travel your road to recovery.