These 3 tips help me better prepare for a rheumatology appointment
Many patients don't know what to expect during their first appointment
At my latest rheumatology appointment to monitor my ankylosing spondylitis (AS) progression, a wave of goosebumps broke out on my arms as I stepped through the automatic glass door from a hot, sunny day into the chilled, antiseptic-scented air of the hospital clinic
I realized with annoyance that I hadn’t chosen appropriate clothing for the appointment. I was wearing a black pencil skirt and a thin linen blouse, which weren’t warm enough for the cold hospital air. A little later, I had to lie on a hospital bed and perform several leg and hip movements, which were difficult (and slightly embarrassing) in a skirt.
As I lay there feeling silly, I realized that no one tells you how to properly prepare for a rheumatology appointment. Therefore, I thought I’d share the top three tips I’ve learned while seeing rheumatologists in the public healthcare system here in Australia.
In my case, the public healthcare system has effectively diagnosed my disease and scheduled twice-yearly checkups to ensure my AS is monitored and controlled with the right treatments. I’ve never seen a rheumatologist privately, only through the public hospital. The process seems to be that I receive a letter through the system notifying me of the name of the rheumatologist I’m booked to see, with a set time and date, and a note advising that I allow two or three hours for the appointment.
Prepare for a long and boring wait
Some kind of time warp seems to be happening at my rheumatology appointments. The minutes seem to tick by incredibly slowly in the waiting room, as if I’m an insect trapped inside a piece of amber, suspended in time.
At my very first rheumatology appointment, I had no idea what to expect, and boredom wasn’t something I’d considered. The waiting room was large and busy, and plenty of people shuffled slowly around. Rows of clean but uncomfortable chairs waited for me to park myself for a few hours.
Now, to fill the time, I bring a book and earbuds to listen to music or a podcast on my phone. (Don’t forget to fully charge your phone!) It’s important that I keep one ear free to hear when my name is called. At my last appointment, I brought a sketchpad and a pencil to work on ideas for my latest painting. I’m the kind of person who hates to waste even a few minutes staring at a beige hospital wall.
My husband, Dave, who was also diagnosed with AS, mentioned that he wished he’d brought a book of crosswords or other puzzles to keep his mind busy while he waited.
Bringing a snack is also an excellent idea, as well as a takeout coffee or a bottle of water. At the waiting room I frequent, there are no facilities nearby except bathrooms and a snack dispenser several floors down. Coming prepared makes the wait much more pleasant and less irritating.
Choose your clothing wisely
When it comes to dressing for a rheumatology appointment, it’s best to wear something comfortable that you can sit in for several hours, but also potentially perform exercises in. Bring an extra layer like a sweater in case the waiting room is cold, which hospitals often are.
Although I made the mistake of wearing a skirt at my last appointment, at least I was wearing a separate top and bottom, which easily allowed my lower spine to be checked. These appointments often include a physical exam, during which I’ve been asked to bend over and have my spine mobility measured and marked. This would be very difficult in a dress or a jumpsuit that couldn’t be lifted from the waist. I recommend pants and a loose top to make any physical checks easier (and more dignified).
Arm yourself with medical notes and a pen
During some rheumatology appointments, I’ve been so exhausted from and overwhelmed by flaring symptoms that I could easily forget to ask certain questions or remember important information. I’ve realized that my AS appointments are much more productive if I spend 10 minutes ahead of time thinking about all the burning questions I need answered. I write out a short list of them.
I always bring a notepad with the questions and a pen to jot down notes as we talk. Sometimes I bring my entire medical folder if I want to remember specifics about medications or symptoms. With limited time to speak to an experienced rheumatologist, I want to make the most of every second at that appointment.
I hope these three tips will allow you to have a relaxing and helpful rheumatologist appointment without any embarrassing gaffes like my last visit. Although AS is a painful disease, at least the hospital trips can be slightly more comfortable when you’re fully prepared.
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.