Doctor, doctor, give me the news

Janie and I are in heavy negotiations to participate in open enrollment for medical benefits with her work. I’ve recently been added to her medical/dental plan and we’re deciding on switching from one plan to another.

Several years ago, before I took up residence in my current job, I had insurance that allowed me to see a doctor that I adored. She was small and friendly and had warm hands. She was so good, in fact, that I waited a good 6-8 months before I was able to see her for my new-patient appointment/physical. She’d been more attentive and helpful than any other doctor I’d had in the past. When I moved jobs, however, I was thrust into a whole new, nightmarish world. I call this world Group Health. I won’t even link to them, because they don’t deserve it.

For all you non-locals, GHC is, according to their website (which I will still not link to), “a consumer-governed, nonprofit health care system that coordinates care and coverage.” They forgot to add that they are uncaring, insensitive and quick to judge. Also, they are asshole motherfuckers. They forgot to add that part, too.

I’d heard bad things about them for years. Mostly they are referred to as “Group Death” by the people who have experiences similar to mine. That’s pretty much everyone except for my boss and my mother-in-law. While I can’t say exactly why my boss loves them so, despite the fact that their inability to provide decent medical care causes her employees to cry in their offices and share horror stories in the lobby, I can say that I know why my mother-in-law loves them. Because there was this time she was deathly ill with toxemia while my wife was growing inside her. She was so sick that they both almost died. But they didn’t! GH and it’s one good doctor saved my mother-in-law and my lady, who was born several months early and was so very small that they had to put an IV in her head because there was nowhere else it would fit. On account of her being tiny. Also, her ears are small and underdeveloped because they didn’t unfold all the way, which is so cute. So this is the one thing Group Health has ever done right, as far as I can tell.

My first visit was to my assigned primary physician. She’s actually not a bad doctor. She’s nice and normal and shops at the same grocery store that I do. She probably shouldn’t be working there, because her reputation deserves better, but she does and that’s her choice. I like to talk about her, though, when I talk about how fucked up GH is, because though she had seemingly plausible explanations for them, she once gave me two suggestions that seemed totally made up.

I have a history if anxiety issues which sometimes lead to physical manifestations like hyperventilating, but in such a drawn out manner that I’m not heaving, I just can’t take a deep breath at all. Or I have a very rapid heartbeat that pounds so hard I can see it through my shirt. And sometimes, in a not painful but incredibly frightening way, my heart feels like it is going to explode.

I was at work and my heart began to race. I could feel it pounding in my chest. Then I felt okay, but soon after it would happen again. This lasted for a while, starting and stopping at random. After about an hour I decided to start taking my pulse. Over 30 minutes my pulse jumped from the high 80’s to the 120’s to the 80’s to the 100’s, etc. I scheduled an appointment and went to my primary doctor, Dr. J (but not the Dr. J – although he’s probably as qualified to work there as much of their staff). She wasn’t worried and assured me I would not die and my heart would not, in fact, explode. She thought, perhaps, it was my excessive use of Excedrine Migraine and the caffeine therein that cause my hear to skip about, so she prescribed me a new headache medication and said that if my pulse continued to freak out, I could do one of two things: “Put your face into a sink or bowl full of ice,” or “Stick your finger down your throat.”

I’m pretty gullible, and maybe she’d had contact with Janie shortly before and they conspired to “get me good.” I would not put it past that shifty lady of mine. Janie seemed pretty surprised, too, though and I felt assured it was not her devious mind behind this. My doctor had, in fact, just encouraged me to take up bulimia. Sure, sure…there were possible legitimate medical theories behind this behavior – something about the nerve in the face (for the ice) and the nerve in the throat (for the gagging) being in cahoots with the nerve controlling the pulse. But it sounds better when I tell people my doctor told me that a good, old-fashioned eating disorder would fix my heart.

Dr. J is the best doctor I’ve seen there. She’s never judgmental to my face, or via email, though I assume she probably has a few good laughs about my frequent emails regarding possible diseases and maladies which I’ve acquired since my last contact, three hours prior. Also, she wears pants that are too short, and I like that in a physician. It says to me, I’m so busy learning about how to help you that I couldn’t possible buy new, longer pants. These? I’ve had them since I was 12. I’ve been studying up for you for THAT LONG. But there have been a few times that I’ve had a second and third thought about her, that I’ve considered requesting a copy of her medical degree, just to make sure.

I emailed her when I’d experienced a dull pain in the back of my head that lasted several days, coming and going (this seems to be a pattern with my maladies – they are haphazard or lazy. Just like their mother) at random; irritating at most. She suggested that it might be a condition known as neuralgia and that it would subside. If you’re too lazy to click on the link, let me just tell you the most important part of the explanation: “This disease has earned the nickname “the suicide disease,” due to the unfortunate and drastic steps some have taken when they have been unable to find relief.” Oh, sure…no problem!

Sure, most people probably think it’s not very smart to get medical diagnosis information from the Internet. I’m actually one of those people. I enjoy the WebMD Symptom Checker to see what might possibly be ailing me, but I usually turn to a professional: a real, live doctor, to tell me what’s going on. After several days of ultra vigilance regarding my state of mind and possible propensity towards committing suicide on account of my condition, I calmed down and went about my life, realizing that the Internet – it’s not all THAT. The Internet didn’t go to medical school! The Internet didn’t cure my heart problem by suggesting I throw up! NO, the Internet is filled with non-doctors like me, dispensing information that we make up. And the next time I had a question, a thought about what was happening inside my body (specifically, my ear which had been popping and crackling and making other, strange and wrong noises), I emailed my doctor and made an appointment. While there she said she couldn’t really find anything wrong with me that wouldn’t go away on its own, and then she suggested I look on the Internet for more information. TRUE STORY.

Lest you believe that this group of doctors, nurses and other supposedly trained medical professionals couldn’t get any nuttier, let me tell you about my trip to the gynecologist. Before Group Health, I’d also had a good gynecologist, if some stranger who you pay to stick things into your hoo-ha can actually be referred to a “good.” He was better than Dr. B, the one I’d had before (the one who, in the middle of my annual exam, stepped out to take a phone call from his wife. IN THE MIDDLE OF MY EXAM.) and is better than the one I saw as a referral from Dr. J. Her name was Dr. K and I was told that she was the most senior in status, which led me to believe that she probably had a good employment history. At my appointment, I filled out the requisite forms, not lying about anything. I admitted I was not on birth control, yet was having unprotected relations with my monogamous partner of several years with no current plans to get pregnant. When she looked at me, horrified at my high-school level understanding of how babies were made, I assured her that it was okay and said “Oh, no! Don’t worry. He always pulls out in time.” Not really. I told her I was a big old lesbian, then hopped up into the stirrups, ready to go!

While she roughed me up considerably during my exam (for an old lady she sure was strong and painfully aggressive), she asked about my “lifestyle.” How long had I been involved in this “lifestyle?” What did my parents think of my “lifestyle?” IN THE MIDDLE OF MY EXAM. Maybe she and Dr. B went to the same school and took the same class about inappropriate things to do IN THE MIDDLE OF AN EXAM. When she asked, I probably answered her or had done something appropriately responsive like kick her in the face, but I don’t really know. Because while some crazy old lady was being mean to my lady-parts, she asked about my parents…and NO ONE SHOULD EVER BE REMINDED OF THEIR PARENTS WHEN SOMEONE IS IN THEIR AREA. Afterwards, she tried to talk me out of getting a pap smear, because “lesbians don’t need them – unless they’ve been having sex with men. Pap smears only detect a virus that can be passed on between a man and a woman.” This is not true. I do believe my homophobic and mean old lady gynecologist was hoping I’d get sick and die. Touche, bad doctor. I hope the same of you.

Once my lady and I started talking seriously about having some of those things they call babies, I decided to see if I was sterile. Because I am. The Internet said so. My good doctor, way back when, had diagnosed me with Polycystic Ovary Symdrome which, if you’re still too lazy to click the link, is an endocrine disorder which “is the most common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age, and is a leading cause of infertility. The principal features are weight issues, lack of regular ovulation and/or menstrual and excessive amounts or effects of androgenic (masculinizing) hormones.” (this is where my mother probably reads “masculinizing” and thinks: OH NO! She is the man!) Basically, it makes it nothing short of a miracle to conceive without serious and expensive medical help. So I was referred to an Endocrinologist by Dr. J. Her name is Dr. T and she is young and kind and wears lipstick. I have a hard time seeing younger doctors because I feel judged by them. This is my own problem, I know. I’m just saying. I feel judged. She was very kind, she did not call me a fat whore and she prescribed birth control (which I’d told her I’d taken before to try to treat this condition and it gave me horrifying hot flashes) and made me take a bunch of blood tests. They took something like 3,000 vials of blood that day. They all came back fine in every way, meaning I AM NOT THE MAN, MOM. I do not have elevated levels of anything, especially self-esteem. But that didn’t show up through blood tests – rather four years of therapy with a non-GH badass therapist who costs a lot of money but is totally worth it. After a month on the birth control, I experienced some of the old familiar pulse issues of months past coupled with what felt like burning, searing nuclear explosions pulsing throughout my body. This is how I can best describe hot flashes to someone who hasn’t had one. And anyone who has had them – you know. I emailed my doctor and endocrinologist, asking their opinions. Dr. T responded: “It’s possible that your ovaries are failing. Stop taking the birth control and call me in two months.” I stopped taking the medication, mentally prepared myself to see my shriveled and rotting ovaries fall out of my pants leg and roll down the hall and told Janie that she was our only hope.

5 Comments

  1. October 17, 2007

    I *hate* dealing with health insurance. It makes me mad every time. What kind of doctor leaves in the middle of an exam?

  2. heathen
    October 17, 2007

    a very bad doctor, that’s the kind. 🙂

  3. LizzieLou
    October 22, 2007

    I think you need to print out that nice pap smear pamphlet for the mean old-lady doctor. Actually, you can tell me her name and I’d be happy to send her one for you. I wonder if our own USA department of health and human services issues a similar informational brochure… No? What a big surprise. : |

  4. Ali
    November 13, 2007

    Hi

    Firstly, had I not used an internet medical diagnostic tool I would be dead. It took me five minutes to find out that I had celiac disease – something doctors had been unable to work out in fifty one years. A biopsy confirmed it. My doctors were furious at my impertinence in improving my health without their permission. Between my internet diagnosis and before the biopsy they spent every waking minute communicating to me that the internet must be wrong.

    Secondly, yes, they do take a special degree in inappropriate things to say in an examination. My best friend, a vegetarian in perfect health, had a small lump in her groin. At the time she thought it was a hernia or a cyst of some kind. She was strung up in the examination room, legs in stirrups, and the doctor said, “No point in waiting for pathology. I’ve seen this before. It’s malignant melanoma.” He didn’t even bother waiting for her to get dressed and be sitting in his office, like a human being, before telling her she had six months to live. (She lived a further four years, mainly to spite him.)

    Later, when she lectured to a bunch of cancer doctors about her inhuman treatment, she related this story and had to explain in questions afterwards what was wrong with this.

    I send luck to Janie. I have to eat gluten, wheat, soya, corn, dairy, nut, nightshade, legume, sugar and latex-free (the gloves…) Who knew butternut squash was so versatile!?

    Ali

  5. heathen
    November 13, 2007

    I hear that many pople have horrific stories of their Celiac diagnosis. It’s amazing to me that more people don’t know about it considering it’s estimated that one of every 130 or so people are afflicted. And to think it’s (somewhat) easy to change the course once you know how…I hope others who are looking for the answer find it sooner than you did. But I’m glad you did and glad Janie did because it so clearly makes a difference.

    Doctors are, so often, inhumane. I don’t understand how, in their work, they can’t understand and be better at practicing the art of compassion.

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