Hospitals are places where great efforts are made to save lives. They can be almost magical places. Sometimes, the magic just isn’t there. I have great respect for doctors. They saved my life and I’ve been able to call a few, friend. We expect doctors to be as smart as Albert Einstein and as empathetic as Mother Theresa. It can’t be done, but thankfully, many doctors come close. But not always.
I was misdiagnosed for over two years before all my symptoms were added together to equal Hodgkin’s Lymphoma . One radiologist told me I was too young (34) to have cancer. God only knows how much more complicated my treatment became as a result.
One of the general practitioners I saw during this time not only got it wrong, but did so with all the empathy of a brick. If you’re scientifically inclined and smart enough to be a doctor but can’t connect to people, go into research or pathology. That sample won’t care how you tell it that it’s breast cancer. A woman, on the other hand, will.
Before my first treatment at Medium Sized Hospital Cancer Center, my wife and I met with a very nice woman. She was alone in her own office. All she wanted to know were the statistics: name, address, insurance company, social security number, etc. The hospital found her job important enough so that she had her own office and it was important enough for me to go see her. Any questions on my emotional state? How my wife or child was handling things? Whether I’d be able to keep my job? Whether I was able to keep my marbles during this process? Nope. No such questions. Not important enough. Just give us the insurance card and good luck with treatment!
My second relapse came with tumors in my lungs. My doctor wanted to avoid a surgical biopsy, so we tried a CT guided needle biopsy. This is very delicate, needle in a haystack stuff. I was practically strapped down and told to lie still. The interventional radiologist landed a giant needle into my lower back, in hopes of hitting the tumor to get a sample. My reflex? I flinched, which resulted in a scolding. Really? Turn around, Doc. I’m going to try this out on you. Stay still! You flinched! What’s wrong with you?
I shopped around before choosing where to get my bone marrow transplant done. I went to see a very good doctor at Darn Fabulous Cancer Center. By their rules, I HAD to get my chart to him at least 48 hours before my appointment. That required lots of stress, phone calls, photocopying and about $75 in FedEx charges. When I finally got to see this doctor, on his desk, was the unopened FedEx box. He didn’t need it. All he needed to do was ask me a handful of questions, and he knew exactly where I stood. I think instead of the 48 hour/chart policy, the hospital should’ve required patients to take $75 in cash, tear it up and throw away the shreds.
During my bone marrow transplant, I was woken every morning at 5:00 AM, so I could get out of bed and stand on a scale. That way the doctors, when they went on rounds that morning, would get the best reading of my weight. My body is literally a battle ground and I feel like death warmed over, but I have to wake up way too early for the convenience of the doctors doing rounds. Wasn’t that nice of them? I’m sure my weight difference three hours later would’ve been a good twenty or thirty pounds.
Of course, what list of complaints is complete without food? Of the multiple hospitalizations I had in multiple hospitals, only one thing truly better than edible comes to mind. Soup at Yale New Haven Hospital. Everything, everywhere else, was bad. How much of the country’s health care bill is spent on food that gets thrown out because no one wants it or can eat it? My bone marrow transplant cost well into six figures, but that wasn’t enough to get me edible food. We paid for that out of pocket. My wife brought me instant mac and cheese and Progresso soup every day.
I propose the Federal Hospital Food Accountability Act. Under it, all management employees of every hospital receiving federal money must eat for their meals, the same food, delivered the same way, at the same temperature, served to patients. I think the quality of the food will dramatically improve or this group of people will dramatically lose weight. Why do hospitals that proclaim how high tech they are, how cutting edge they are, who bill eye-popping amounts for medical procedures, pinch pennies when it comes to food? If a patient won’t eat, she won’t get better.
Time is a valuable commodity if you’re a doctor. If you’re a patient, not so much. After my second relapse, I went to World Famous Big City Cancer Center for a second opinion. That doctor’s opinion was that I was terminally ill and further treatment would be a waste of what little time I had left. Not only was he wrong (I’ve been in remission for nine plus years, and following his advice would’ve been a death sentence) but we spun our wheels in his office for three hours before he saw me. I’m going to tell you how little time you have left, but first, please enjoy our two year old People magazines in our fabulous waiting room for three hours longer than you expected. His office should’ve had a special Express Lane for terminally ill patients. After all, they’ve got much less time to waste than the lucky SOB’s getting cured.
Another doctor (whom I ended up dearly loving), after I told him he was running six (that’s right, six) hours behind (plus I had another two hour drive home), responded by asking me, “That’s really not that bad, is it?” You have entered the Doctor Time Zone, where all the time is his, none is yours!
In the end, I can’t argue with success. I survived cancer, the doctors and the hospitals. But things can, and should, get better. Thankfully, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in treatment. The cancer center as an assembly line should be a thing of the past. But if you feel like you’re just another widget getting churned out of a factory, complain about it. It’s the only way things will get better.