Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Heaven's Waiting Room

I went to the doctor today. This is a momentous event for me. Having had some serious, mysterious medical issues in my past, I have learned to avoid doctors. It's not that I don't like them, or don't trust them, but medical science is really still in its infancy in many ways, only no one seems to have told the doctors that. I think someone takes them aside in medical school and tells them, "Listen. Patients expect you to have all the answers, so if you don't know, for god's sake, don't tell the patient! Make it up if you have to! Stick them full of needles. Pump them full of drugs. Cut them open for a look-see. But never, ever admit that you don't know what's going on! And if they question you, give them your most superior look and hand them a paper towel with armholes and the instructions to 'change into this and wait here.' Then leave them alone in an icy examining room for two or three hours to contemplate the error of their ways. You are all powerful. Never let them forget it!"

Or something like that.

I'm not sure what else could account for a neurologist telling me that, at age 28, I suddenly had epilepsy and should take anti-seizure medicine for the rest of my life (even though it causes birth defects and I was trying to get pregnant), when in fact, I had a growth in my brain--only revealed after I refused the meds and insisted on more tests.

Or the ob/gyn on call in the emergency room who told me that I was suffering from muscle pain and, "all pregnant women experience some discomfort; you'll just have to get used to it," when in fact my intestines had tied themselves into a knot, were weeping fluid into my abdomen, and had caused several blood vessels in my gut to become so distended that they were within moments of bursting by the time the surgeon finally got in there and untwisted everything. That time, it was only my husband's flat refusal to take me home from the ER for a third time in two days that forced the powers that be to admit me and do the necessary tests to discover what had turned an otherwise sane woman into a writhing mass of moaning, animal agony. Muscle pain. Yeah.

But I'm rambling. I went to the doctor today. Only the need for a prescription refill to prevent the arrival of any more joyous blessings can get me through the door of that office. I tried to get one in my usual fashion--booking the appointment, getting the doctor to call in the prescription, and then canceling with the promise to reschedule "soon"--but, apparently, they are on to me. The scheduler politely pointed out that it had been "quite a while" since my last "visit" and that they "have missed me." In this case, "quite a while" means "since shortly after the birth of my seven-year-old," "visit" means "forced appearance," and they "have missed me" means "ain't no way you're getting a refill unless you show up."

I know when I'm beat. I went in.

My doctor's office is probably a lot like most others these days. It looks more like an airport waiting area than a doctor's office, except that instead of vests and ties, the people behind the counter wear scrubs, and instead of a miniature pillow with someone else's hair oil on it, they hand you a scrap of faded fabric they grandly refer to as a "gown." Other than that, you can expect to sit around for hours past your planned departure time, crammed into an uncomfortable seat, with babies crying and sick people hacking on you until you wish you had just stayed home. The one thing that is different about my doctor's office than most is that the average age of the patients in the waiting room is about 103. And that's only the ones who still appear to be breathing. It's located in well-known retirement area. I privately think of it as "heaven's waiting room." I used to go to a nearby gym--it made me feel really, really young and fit.

I suppose I was fortunate. The office only rescheduled my appointment once--twice, if you count rescheduling it again with another doctor after mine decided to take vacation the week of my appointment. And then the doctor was only running 45 minutes behind. Add to that the 15 minutes in advance of the appointment time that I arrived in order to sign in, fill out forms, and pay my ever-increasing co-pay (because, after all, it would be rude to show up late and make the doctor wait for me), and it only took five weeks, plus one hour, of waiting to get in to see someone I would really rather not see at all. Oh, the joy of HMOs.

How is all of this relevant? Well, during all that waiting, I was knitting. I still can't show you a picture of this project, but I can show you how much yarn was left by the time the doctor finally tapped on the door and entered the exam room where I was stylishly wrapped in a hanky and a kleenex, shivering my over-exposed rear off while I knitted away on the exam table.

I smiled pleasantly as she apologized for the lengthy wait, using phrases like "patient emergency" and "not my fault," and I politely agreed that "these things happen," and gave her my most patient and understanding nod. "Oh, are you knitting?" she asked then. I held up my project, deliberately displaying the eight inches of yarn left dangling from the end of my needle. "Yes," I replied, quite mildly, looking her straight in the eye. "And you arrived just in time." You know that moment when someone goes really still, and starts paying really close attention? Like, when they've just realized they are in mortal peril and should back slowly away from whatever is staring them straight in the eye? Yeah. She gave me two years of refills. I don't think she wants me to come back any time soon.

12 comments:

uberstrickenfrau said...

Your story sounds like one of those 'House' episodes where he spends the time guessing whats wrong and almost killing the poor sap who got sent to him. sheesh.

Kim said...

Yes, the doctor arrived just in time!! I avoid going to the doctor too because he/she always tells me my humors are out of wack and gets out the leeches.

knottykitty said...

I couldn't agree with you more---about everything! I'm a nurse and I avoid the doctor's office like the plague! That's a good trick about getting the doctor to call in your refills, but mine won't do it. I wish they would give me two years worth of refills, but alas, I only get one...

MelissaKnits said...

oh, lord don't even get me started...

19 years ago a close friend was pregnant and having some pretty intense pain in her side. She went in and was sent home, went back, and was sent home again. Finally they did a stress test, more to shut her up than anything. The baby was fine. Of course, since MOM was the one having pain, well, maybe they should have checked MOM out a little better??

Ultimately bloodwork and an ultrasound revealed a potentially deadly and little understood blood disorder. Mom lived. The baby lived (although she was tragically killed in a car accident this spring) but I never forgot the experience. Of course they "knew" she was fine. And their self-righteous assurance that she was having "typical pregnancy discomfort" would have killed her and the baby if it'd gone on for about 6 more hours. And they were going to send her home again.

Sharon said...

More yarn, STAT!! lol

Tammy said...

I haven't seen my ob/gyn since the birth of my last child. I handle everything through my gp... easy scheduling and no wait. Of course I do miss those hours of sitting around naked in a paper robe.

Kristin said...

I had to take Laila in this week for her well baby check and shots after having yelled and swore at her last time. I prepared a defense but she didn't bring it up.

I would have punched my doctor out if she said "not my fault".

Kate said...

Wait, you get fabric?! We get paper sheets up here. But I can get in within a couple of days, and I just go to my gp. Oh right, and I'm in Canada so I don't pay (well, not upfront) :)
I like to knit there, it makes people puzzled.
Well-told story, my favourite part is the ending.

Sarah said...

If we could get paid for all the time we spend waiting we would be rich.

Lydee said...

oh wow, that's why I haven't been to the ob/gyn since the birth of my almost 4 year old. That and their terrible bedside manners infuriates me.

Steph B said...

There's probably a note on your chart now: "WARNING: patient arrives armed with pointy sticks and bad attitude"! That is a great story! Once again a knitter makes her point (pun intended).

kmkat said...

I am reading a book that you might like: Complications : a surgeon's notes on an imperfect science by Atul Gawande. Among other things it explains why doctors KNOW they don't know everything but they can't tell us that. My own doctor -- I live in a rural area where lawsuits are not easily contemplated -- is pretty up-front with us about stuff.