Funny how just when you think you understand something, life has a way of challgenging what you think you know.
Within the last month a sudden change in my vision has given me a whole new perspective on health care. As a family member of patients who’ve been hospitalized for very serious conditions a number of times, I’ve seen it all. Good, heads up medical care in fine facilities, and lackluster performance, less that sterile conditions, not to mention downright mistakes in health care settings trumpeted as some of the best in the world. Doesn’t make sense — you’d like to think the best hospitals would be the best in everything.
In my own case, I went to my local ophthalmologist first, to be examined and told that he couldn’t see anything but also couldn’t say what was causing my very definite vision loss. A symptom they could measure readily enough, but could not explain. Naturally being the informed patient and activist that I am, I took matters into my own hands and called on the best to be had… in Boston but known through all the world.
I was surprised how quickly I got that first appointment… just four weeks after my visit to my own eye care people. My relief faded as I can face to face with a the doctor (I’ll call him Dr. G.) who was undoubtedly brilliant, but abrupt and cold. I was told, point-blank that past medical decisions “had been a mistake”, the he too, could not see anything wrong with my eye, though there was measurable vision loss. I was sent for an ultrasound – after being curtly reminded that I had come to the wrong specialty and would need to see someone else. I hadn’t realized the importance of this when I made that appointment.
The ultrasound was by far the most pleasant and well run experience of the day. The technician was so warm and friendly — she made me feel comfortable. The procedure turned out to be quick and not very uncomfortable at all. I left for home feeling like I’d been proactive and would have my answer soon enough… but that certainly nothing serious was amiss. After all, I’d been seen by the best.
Two weeks and five phone calls later I had my answer in a hurried discussion with Dr. G. He launched right into what the ultrasound had found, that it was most likely a longstanding issue… until I interrupted to remind him that I’d only started having symptoms the month before. This seemed to catch him off guard, though Dr. G. maintained that the condition may have been there for some time and that while serious, hardly rose to the same level as it would be in a patient with normal vision.
You understand the ideas of priority in your head… it’s a whole different thing to hear it applied to YOU.
The conversation was over in less than five minutes… the task of getting me in with a specialist (“because of the word x, we’ll have to do something with you now”) left to Dr. G.’s secretary who would be in touch with me. When I dared to ask if there was anything I needed to be aware of, until I saw a specialist, Dr. G. was none too pleased to be kept on the line and asked two rapid fire questions. No, I told him, I don’t make a habit of standing on my head, and no I haven’t been skydiving lately.
Dr. G.’s very pleasant and hard-working secretary did get in touch later that same afternoon. She seemed genuinely concerned that the date and time she’d set up be good for me — the appointment a full month sooner than the one I’d been able to on my own. It was a rare moment of feeling as though someone in that big, well respected institution actually cared what happened to me.
Strange that so far, the only excellence I’ve seen from this oh-so-respected facility has come from the support staff who probably make a tenth of what the doctors do. Maybe the physicians get too caught up in showing how smart and skilled they are to be bothered very much by what mere patients think or feel.