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Friday, March 26, 2010


It’s nice to know I have people cheering me on as I navigate the frustrating red tape of getting face time with the right doctor. Last year my main concern was taming my cough-variant asthma (still a concern). I remember the same frustrations. Now that the stakes are higher and the specialists drive better cars I thought the path would get smoother. It didn’t. It feels the same.

I received a lot of comments yesterday about how to get what I want from the juggernaut of organized medicine. In a nutshell, I need to be more assertive, to reach through the phone, shake the gatekeepers and scream, “I demand compassionate care now!” Maybe my soft approaches come from repeated viewings of National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation” where my favorite character – Eddie Johnson, played by Randy Quaid – has a line that sticks to me like Noah’s hair when he sheds: “I don’t want to impose . . .”

But it worries me that if all patients consciously assert themselves more when navigating the phone maze, then this heightened dynamic becomes the norm. At this point a “normal” approach would appear less urgent to the call-taker and therefore not as important. Heaven forbid, a subtly worded request spoken in a calm voice would receive no attention at all.

We all need to chill.

Just think what it would be like if everybody chills. Imagine lots of Miles Davis look-alikes walking through the halls of hospitals, gowns open in the back, tooting pianissimo notes. If everybody chills, just a slight affect in one of those Miles voices would command attention. Think of it!

“May I help you?”
“You need to see a neurologist for serious symptoms?”
“Would you like an appointment scheduled?”
“How about July?”
“. . . mm . . .”
“No? July isn’t good?”
“. . . ehh . . .”
“Goodness! HOLD ON! Let me fix that!! How about tomorrow?”
“Yeah. That’s cool.” 

Just think what that would be like. But I know I am dreaming, and everyone who knows me knows I am a realist who doesn’t waste time fretting about the way things SHOULD be. I deal with the way things ARE. I try to act the way I wish everyone else would act. (I think the Bible has a quote to that effect.)

More accurately, I would say my even-tempered approach is due to the fact that the medical behemoth I have been patronizing recently has also demonstrated surprising nimbleness. For example, when I first experienced vision trouble (I had to wear an eye patch for a concert of James Bond music) the results of my first visit to an ophthalmologist put me on the fast track to see a “hard-to-get-into” neuro-ophthalmologist the next day. This yielded an MRI that night, which got me an 8am phone call the next morning, which led to a face-to-face visit with the best neurosurgeon two hours after that, and a few days later an anesthesiologist was asking me to breathe into a mask so they could perform brain surgery. It was a well-oiled machine, and without the medical juggernaut I would have been permanently blind in another two weeks. The medical community here demonstrated incredible virtuosity during my most critical moments.

Yet all of the above happened in as much time as it has taken me – with great frustration – to book any kind of appointment with a good neurologist. So – perhaps – there is mass incompetence out there or – perhaps – my brain jolts rank less urgently than the scores of other neurological disorders scattered amongst the millions of people in West Michigan or – perhaps – it is a combination of the two, a side-effect of a blooming industry that still needs tweaking in customer service as it expands one block at a time through our old downtown where a hundred years ago a small apothecary stood in its place.

This morning my primary care physician squeezed me in for an urgent visit. He took note of my symptoms and, right away, he went to bat for me. His assistant followed suit with some heroics on the phone, and early this afternoon they called to inform me I have a time slot with the recommended neurologist who works closely with my neuro-ophthalmologist.

The appointment is not in July. It is Monday afternoon.

1 comment:

  1. Whatever the path, I'm glad you got an appointment soon. I wish you the very best results!