Monday, December 17, 2007

Medical Maladies and Doctor Diatribes

Spending the day at the Washington Athletic Club with my dear friend Kristin, who is battling pancreatic cancer, inspired me to start swimming regularly again. But it was my STAT trip to the hospital on Saturday that scared me into a promise to myself that I'd keep up the regular physical activity!

I was drifting off to sleep in front of the TV last Friday, as I often do. I had turned on one of those late-night TV movies and was somewhere between sleep and consciousness when I heard the announcer ask me if I had pain in my leg. 'Why yes I do,' I replied (or didn't), in my state of semi-consciousness. 'But it's no biggie, I'm sure. Just the incessant beginnings of a cramp...'

"The pain in your leg could be a serious precursor to a heart attack or even a stroke," the 70's-handsome sing-songy announcer replied (or didn't).

"A heart attack or even a stroke?" I woke up fully at that point and shot the Adam West clone a snooty, "Well I'll go for the casual heart attack then, bub!"

I mentioned what I'd heard to Tom and he suggested that I call the doctor first thing in the morning, which I did. The doctor saw me right away, even though I assured him that it's probably some pesky month-long wanna-be cramp and surely no biggie. Thanks very much and have a nice day.

But he wouldn't let me leave. Instead he scribbled something on an official looking form and practically shoved it into my hand saying, "I want you to head to the hospital right now for a venous ultrasound (what's that?) and an x-ray. There's a possibility that this is a blot clot that's about to beak loose."

"Aw doc," I pleaded. "It's nuttin'. I'm sure!"

But he'd have none of it and shood me off to one of the many Seattle medical centers. (The fact that he allowed me to drive told me that he couldn't have been all that worried!)

At the hospital, they whisked me into the tests immediately. I'm thinking that maybe the words "URGENT" written all over the paper work had a slight influence.

The tests were a piece of cake (gotta love those non-invasive sorts!) and when they were all done the tech said, simply, "You're free to go."

I am? You mean no one's gonna talk with me about what's going on? I'm just... free to go?

Seems so. So I left, almost in tears. Throughout all the "STAT" talk and URGENT shooing, I was fine. I drove alone to the hospital and like a good girl I sat still for all my tests, even without a lollipop. But when they just shood me away without talking to me at all, without telling me the results of the test, next steps, further concerns (or assurances), or ANYTHING, that's when I felt like crying!

That's when I felt really alone. That's when I was confused. And scared. And, come to think of it, angry.

I called the doctor's office, but they'd all left for the day. I called the next day, but the doctor's were available for emergencies only, and clearly this wasn't an emergency because I'd been sent home!

This afternoon (on the way to the pool to swim for 30 minutes!) I called again, amazed that they still hadn't responded to my request for communication and some kind of explanation about what was going on. I told the nurse my story, and I'm sure she could sense my frustration because she immediately said she'd talk to the doctor and call me right back -- which she did.

Turns out, I'm fine. Duh, I knew that! I can't blame them for jumping into high gear once I presented with disconcerting symptoms. But I wish there had been more communication. It seems that it's the patient who is often lost in the shuffle and who is often left in the dark about her own condition.

And that does piss me off!

So it turns out that the nurse suggested that I call the doctor back about "next steps" which, ya know, I really don't want to do! And I can't imagine I'm alone in wanting to drop the ball. I wonder how often that ball IS dropped at this stage, out of fear, apathy, frustration, whatever, and then something happens because the patient didn't follow through and address the problem.

I'll follow through on this because no one else seems to be able to and oh yeah -- because it IS my body and my life! I'm sure it's nothing that a little swimming won't cure...

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Anonymous said...

It's awful when there's no communication. what's the deal? What's so hard about follow-up with the patient in a situation like this?

And I hate when it's either an emergency or absolutely nothing. I once went in thinking I had appendicitis (and didn't) and the difference between 'it's just indigestion' and 'it's a life-threatening emergency' seems pretty hard to distinguish sometimes.

I just got a link to a video called 'The Story of Stuff' that's pretty good and you might want to see. It's 20 minutes long but it's pretty good.

Becky said...

Well, I'll offer my dime-store doctor opinion. You HAVE had a sudden increase in physical activity (the swimming). Building new muscle tissue in your legs can cause some chronic pain (similar to a cramping sensation). Just keep up the regular exercise and the pain will resolve itself. I need to "feel the burn" myself one of these days soon.

swenglishexpat said...

You would have thought that a doctor would be a good communicator, wouldn't you? But on the other hand, you know you're OK and that's what matters. Swimming is a sure way of investing in your future health, enjoy!

jennifer said...

oh Carol... there is nothing so scary as facing all that on your own. Keep swimming. And writing, too.

Maria said...

Doctors are annoying! I am glad you are ok, and you get in there for that follow up, young lady! (That was said in my sternest Mother voice, btw!) :)

Unknown said...

Glad you're okay. The anguish doctor's put us through sometimes is uncalled for.

anno said...

Encounters with the medical establishment are too often frustrating. Sometimes I think dr's are under such pressure to treat so many (too many) patients that follow-up communication -- especially if they think the patient is ok -- often dropped. You are wise to be persistent. Keep swimming, too!

Anonymous said...

I can tell you first hand just how a ball gets dropped if you don't persist. My mother, who had colon cancer and a colostomy, went back for her one-year check after her operation. We didn't hear anything from the doctor's office and assumed everything was OK. A year later, at her second year check-up, we were told that they "forgot" to call us the previous year and tell us her cancer had returned. By that time, it was too late and she was dead a week later.

Goofball said...

oh my gosh, I'd never suspect that pain in my leg could possibly be anything serious. How tough that they first get you worried and wound up because you realise it can be serious and that afterwards you have to chase them to get some info!

And Juanita's story breaks my heart. That is so unbelievable....

Carol said...

It breaks my heart too, Goofball! HUGE, HUGE hugs to Juanita. I can't even imagine... One week... (Head shaking.)


Jen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jen said...

Carol, what craziness... I'm so sorry you went through all that!

And Juanita, my heart goes out to you.

And Carol, I hope Kristin is hanging in there with her marvelous spirit!

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