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Doctors dismissed woman's condition as 'just a cough' until a nurse's intuition changed everything

She was suffering from a persistent cough and was misdiagnosed by several doctors until a compassionate nurse came in to help.

Doctors dismissed woman's condition as 'just a cough' until a nurse's intuition changed everything
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Pavel Danilyuk; Hidden Brain | Julie Silverman's Story

Being misdiagnosed can feel just as hopeless as doctors being stumped by an ailment. Julie Silverman battled persistent coughing for ages, but every doctor visit ended with the same, unhelpful shrug. According to her account on a podcast episode of Hidden Brain's "My Unsung Hero" segment, Silverman recalled her bittersweet time while relying on the healthcare system. After years lost to fear and frustration with doctors who brushed off her coughs, nurse practitioner Alison emerged as Julie's guardian angel.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Edward Jenner
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Edward Jenner

"She was kind of perplexed by this cough and was often asking me how I was doing," Silverman revealed in the podcast. "I had, at this point, gotten kind of dismissive about it because I had been dismissed by so many doctors as 'There's nothing wrong, you're not responding to our treatments, we'll try something else.'" Unlike the doctors, Alison recognized the potential severity of a persistent cough and took immediate action. Alison decided to keep tabs on Silverman's condition as well.

When Silverman visited one of her regular physicians for weekly appointments, Alison noticed that Silverman's coughing had worsened. "I sounded much worse. A very hoarse voice, very breathless, wheezing, along with my coughing and she was just adamant something was wrong with my airway." Alison took immediate action and convinced one of the physicians at the clinic to do a scope of Silverman's trachea, where a small camera was put into her nose and moved down the back of her throat to detect any blockages in her trachea. After the procedure, Silverman could tell that the physician and Alison might have found something alarming about her worsening condition.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Thirdman
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Thirdman

"I could just tell by their faces something was not right," Silverman mentioned. The check-up ended up giving Silverman an accurate diagnosis after ages, which revealed that she had a rare condition called idiopathic subglottic stenosis. The scope showed that Silverman had some scar tissues building up at the top of her trachea and her airway was 75% blocked, which made it difficult for her to breathe, resulting in a consistent cough.

"This is a very rare condition. It only happens to about one in 400,000 people," Silverman said. "And so it is very serious and fatal if not treated because your airway completely closes." The diagnosis gave Silverman a new ray of hope and enough information to find the right specialist who could treat her condition properly. While undergoing her steady treatment, she spends her time volunteering at her local hospital, riding her bike, hiking, skiing and spending time with friends and family. But she has not forgotten what Alison did for her and how it changed her life.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | cottonbro studio
Representative Image Source: Pexels | cottonbro studio

"Had Alison not picked up on the fact that she was sure something else was wrong and gotten this physician to look in my throat, I don't know what would have happened," she concluded. "It was her persistence and diligence and her listening to me and taking me seriously that got my diagnosis in a timely enough fashion to do something about it. So, for these reasons, Alison is my unsung hero." During a time when technology and rapid diagnoses have almost overtaken the benefits patients get from simple human observations, a little compassion and genuine care from people like Alison still hold a beacon of hope for patients who are navigating the complexities of the healthcare system.

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