Why a new rheumatologist made such a difference for me

The reassurance of an appointment that clarifies AS symptoms and options

Jemma Newman avatar

by Jemma Newman |

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Driving through early-morning city traffic on the way to a Western Australia hospital for my rheumatology appointment, I had what felt like a hundred questions running through my head. Because of COVID-19, I hadn’t been able to see a rheumatologist face to face since lockdowns put the clamps on nonurgent hospital visits in 2020.

Now it was June, three years later, and I felt a mix of nerves and hope at the thought of getting some answers about my ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

Sitting in the cold waiting room, I smiled at an older woman sitting next to me who was bundled up in an enormous knitted cardigan. She smiled back and said hello, explaining that she’d brought in her middle-aged son for an appointment about his advanced AS, for which he had a new motorized wheelchair. In my normal life I don’t meet anyone with AS, except my husband, Dave, who was also diagnosed with the disease, so the rheumatology waiting room felt like a rare opportunity to chat with others in a similar position.

After a wait of 90 minutes, I was called into my appointment and was surprised to see a new rheumatology registrar (senior doctor) walking over to greet me with a warm, wide smile. I instantly felt welcomed and more at ease as I sat down slowly on the hard chair in front of her desk.

Clear answers to all my questions

This experienced doctor was a wonderful example of everything I’ve always wished for in a medical professional. As she continued to maintain eye contact with a smile, she invited me to share the story of my diagnosis with her and the two medical students I’d given permission to sit in on my appointment. Nodding along and interjecting occasional comments and explanations, the registrar left me feeling truly heard and understood.

After marking my lower back and testing my spine mobility, she and I discussed what had changed lately in my symptoms, and she took her time answering every one of the questions I’d listed, and at length.

As a curious and fact-loving person who likes to understand the why behind change, I was delighted that she took the time to help me feel well-informed. She brought up information on her computer, explained the link between symptoms like plantar fasciitis and AS, and delved thoroughly into the differences between my medication options.

Feeling positive and at ease after my appointment

I’ve been receiving medical attention and care for my AS since I was diagnosed in 2018, but this appointment was the first I’ve left feeling positive instead of crushed and disappointed. In fact, I remember crying in the car after a previous rheumatology appointment in which my MRI results were discussed, because I was so scared about my future with the disease.

The difference here was finally feeling that I have a clear understanding of my options in managing my ankylosing spondylitis, as well as feeling truly supported by a proactive medical expert. Though I’ve received care from experienced rheumatologists, this doctor’s enthusiasm for finding solutions was wonderful.

From my perspective as an AS patient, passion and care from a rheumatologist makes all the difference in the world. I’ve left the appointment with a better understanding of my individual symptoms and a plan for the future, which has made a huge difference in my positive outlook on living with ankylosing spondylitis.

Note: Ankylosing Spondylitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ankylosing Spondylitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ankylosing spondylitis.


Jean avatar


Jemma - this article will probably have given hope to many AS sufferers. Re your "I have a clear understanding of my options in managing my ankylosing spondylitis" - can you tell us some of the options please?


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