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Missteps and Misdiagnoses (Part 1)

Last updated: March 2022

I first noticed it in May of my senior year of high school. A small, purple-ish, veiny bump had emerged from my right armpit. It was squarely in the middle of my armpit, making the area quite uncomfortable and its presence very difficult to ignore. At first, I thought that it was just some sort of irritation from shaving that would resolve itself after a few days. After a few weeks though, the bump refused to go away, and so I decided to show my mom. My prom was coming up and I was planning on wearing a sleeveless dress, and so I wanted to make sure that the bump would go away before then. We tried a few creams, but the bump remained. It accompanied me to the prom like a date that had become too clingy, refusing to give me some space.

The bump went away... and then came back with a vengeance

My mom and I were confused at the bump’s stubbornness, and so we decided to consult a dermatologist. There was no way for me to know that this doctor’s appointment wouldn’t be like any other dermatologist appointment I’d ever had, but rather, that it would mark the beginning of a series of misdiagnoses and medical mishaps that would change my relationship with the medical system forever.

My mother is a medical professional and since the origins of this bump eluded her, she made sure that the dermatologist I saw was one of the “best of the best.” Accolades and Ivy League degrees decorated his office, leaving patients with the impression that they would be in good hands. Now, I don’t want to say that he’s a bad doctor — just that he definitely wasn’t the doctor for me. He diagnosed the bump as a boil and incised it, explaining that it would go away in a few weeks and that it would be as if it never happened.

This all worked.... until it didn’t. The bump initially flattened out and I felt some relief from the pain for about two weeks, until the bump came back with a vengeance. The bump grew faster than it had before, and within a matter of about a week, it became much bigger than the bump that preceded it. I made another appointment with the same doctor to have him look at the new bump. He once again told me it was just a boil – but that it was “a stubborn one.” He cut it open and sent me on my way without addressing any of my lingering concerns.

Determined to find an answer

Unshockingly, the bump grew back and was becoming even more painful, sending shocks of pain down my left arm. A lump had begun to form under my right arm as well, and while it was not as big as the bump under my left arm, it was just as concerning. At this point, I was packing and preparing to move 800 miles away to attend college, but the uncertainty behind my newfound illness had put that in question.

Clearly, a new doctor was needed, and I was determined to find an answer for my condition. In New York, a city of a bazillion doctors and specialists, I figured that at least one had to know something. My mom was recommended a dermatologist by a friend, and I was able to get an appointment with him about three weeks before my move to college. He took one look at both of my armpits and instantly told me that, without a doubt, I had Hidradenitis Suppurativa.

Check out Part 2 of this series!

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