Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

My Doctor, My Friend

“Health care costs are out of control!”

“Doctors need to stop ordering wasteful tests and pushing prescriptions!”

“They are all in ‘bed’ with big pharmaceuticals and insurance!”

Nearly everywhere I turn there is a constant assault on the medical profession due to neverending cost increases.  This assault unfortunately discredits a field many of us are not qualified to do, and many owe our lives to.  Society wants to have someone to blame.  And in order to blame something, you have to be able to see it to judge it.  We do not really get opportunities to see big pharm and insurance companies in action to see the millions in profits that they take from risky bets on our health.  But doctors are located everywhere, and we know where ours our located.

I have had exactly three doctors in my short life of 46 years.  My first doctor died still practicing medicine at the age of 86.  His hands were quite shaky so it was as good thing that I only needed care for common colds.  But he was the perfect example of the old “house call” physicians.  No matter time of day or night, day of the week, or holidays, if he had been treating your for some ailment, you could expect follow up calls no matter what.  There was an artifact in his office that I will always remember him for, an uncancelled ticket for the Hindenburg.  Yes, he was that old.

My next doctor only saw me for a couple of years before he retired.  But it was he that made one of the biggest discoveries in my life, my diagnosis of cancer.  Well, not exactly.  Based on the symptoms that I had, he treated me for a common cold.  Go ahead, rapidly shake your head back and forth and go WHAT!?!?  Confuse cancer with a cold?!?!  What kind of doctor…

My answer, he was a great doctor.  Medical history would show, that diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Disease was difficult, and rare.  It was his persistance with me, when I did not respond to low level treatments that led him to press me to see my first of several oncologists where I would be introduced informally to cancer.  Then several doctors later, formally introduced with Stage 3b Hodgkin’s Disease, nodular sclerosing, very serious.

But my third and as far as I am concerned, final family doctor took over my last doctor’s practice.  I have been her patient for over twenty years.  Our age is similar, so I have warned her that when she chooses to retire, I will retire from seeing doctors.  Her husband practices with her, yet it is she that I insist on seeing (though to be quite fair, he is just as good a doctor – I have never asked if they have ever wondered who was better).

Up until the 1980′s, you went to “a” doctor, one.  To help ease overhead costs, doctors took on partners.  Eventually the term “clinic” would be included in the name with the doctor’s practice.  Doctors would be able to extend hours, take certain days off each week, and probably much more conveniences.  But it would also mean that doctors could see more patients.

Currently, I live an hour away from my family doctor.  Admittedly, I have tried to find someone I could be comfortable with locally, but gave up trying a long time ago.  I will even put off an appointment with her husband or the other partner, and wait for her first opening perhaps three days later.

My stubbornness is quite easy to understand.  Dr. J is more than just a doctor to me.  She is an advocate for me.  Her knowledge of me, makes her more valuable than the latest diagnostic machinery.  Her persistence and commitment with my health is never questioned.  And though we have never hung out with each other, I consider her one of my closest friends.  She is loyal, honest, and definitely cares.  Dr. J knows me well enough, if I complain about something, even if it does not show up on an MRI, she will find the cause, not just throw a prescription at me to see if it will do the trick.

Unfortunately, critics state, in general terms, doctors order too many nonsense tests and prescribe way too many drugs.  This statement is shouted so loud from disgruntled patients to politicians.  And because of its generality, it unfairly characterizes the great doctors such as Dr. J (and her husband too!).

I would like to give an example of just how good she is as my doctor.  I was hurt at work, and going through the Worker’s Comp program, there could be no firm diagnosis of the injury so I had been treated with cortico steroids.  Still in pain, the WC doctor told me there was nothing more that could be done.  After the time limit expired, releasing me to see the doctor of my choice, I went immediately to Dr. J who ordered an MRI.  I ended up being referred back to the orthopedist that told me he could do nothing more for me.  He scoffed at the idea of doing a second MRI on me and refused.  When I explained to him that this order came from my physician outside of WC, he complied.  And guess what?  A small tear in a minor piece of cartilege in my wrist was the cause.  The cartilege itself was not a big piece, but the tear was enough to cause the pain.

But I will give you a better example of just how good my doctor is, and that as far as I am concerned, I am worth every test that she orders.  A few years ago, after dealing with chest discomfort for nearly four months, I placed a call to Dr. J’s practice.  There were no other obvious symptoms, yet she ordered a test that is not normally given to a 40 year old man.  Immediately following that scan, I was discouraged from even leaving the office and was advised to check in immediately to the hospital next door.  I would have emergency life-saving heart bypass surgery.  They call the type of damage to my artery a “widowmaker” because people do not normally survive this situation.  It typically leads to a fatal heart attack as EMT’s are not prepared to do open heart surgery in the field which is what would be needed.  Her being able to judge me, and know me, led to her preventing my fatal heart attack.  As I was warned by the cardiologist, “it was not a question if I was going to die, but when”.

Dr. J will be my doctor for the rest of my life.  I trust her not to presribe anything that I do not need.  In fact, she goes as far as to research any meds that I do take, to make sure that they do not interact or interfere with each other.  She does not see me often, perhaps once or twice a year at most, so she does not make hand over fist from me.

That does not mean that I am naive as to billing practices of pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies.  I have seen my bills.  But when it comes to the rising costs of health care, Dr. J (and her husband) are off limits!  And I am certain there are other doctors in the world just as good who are unfairly lumped into the administrative crisis of health costs.

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