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A Doctor, Her Kingdom for a Doctor

My doctor is retiring to take care of sick people. She is leaving her practice to work in a hospice with people who have cancer, which is her specialty. Good news for the ill; trouble for me.

I can’t find another doctor. Even though I am what’s known in the trade as a “reliable” and “undemanding” patient (meaning I pay my bills and I hardly ever get sick), no one wants me. Why? The health insurance plan I have--the one I and my employer pay through the nose for--doesn’t pay enough for some doctors and, according to others, recently hasn’t even paid at all. So now even doctors who are signed on with the plan are refusing to see me.

Trust me; I don’t want to see a doctor. Like most adults, I avoid the experience of going to the doctor’s office like the plague.

Even if I had the plague, I’d still have to go through the “front-office gal.” After putting you on hold several times, she says, “The doctor can see you in eight weeks.” Enough time for your impetigo to overtake your face, your ingrown toenail to pin you to the floor and your itch “down there” to result in suicide.

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You show up at your appointed time. There you are--a busy, important person forced to read a 1977 Newsweek cover to cover. For 45 minutes, you are confined to a small waiting room with 10 hacking, wheezing, sneezing people. Without Kleenex.

For another half-hour, you sit shivering in a paper gown in an unheated exam room. There’s nothing to amuse you but a 1984 Modern Maturity and the acoustical ceiling tile.

Finally, the MD approaches. He or she pokes you, anoints you and prescribes you. Five minutes later, he or she is history (or herstory).

It’s just not my idea of a fun way to lose my dignity. But my health plan is set up around having a “primary-care provider” as the first stop on the medical humiliation train. Only now I can’t find one. That means that if I want to go on to Door No. 2--say, be kept waiting for hours by an orthopedist or gynecologist--I can’t.

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For two months, I have been caught in health-plan purgatory trying to get a screw removed from my foot. The screw was left there after surgery last year and should have been removed on June 15. I did everything I was supposed to do. Went to work. Paid my bills. Called on May 1 for my screw-removal appointment.

After phone calls to my surgeon’s secretary, my primary-care doctor’s secretary, my health plan’s secretary and the Suicide Hotline, I discovered that the health plan had denied my request for de-screwing.

This was because my surgeon was not part of the plan (I had already agreed to pay him 400 bucks out of pocket to yank the screw). All I needed was for the health plan to pay for a clean well-lighted room because, after all, you can’t just get de-screwed anywhere.

But that distinction got lost somewhere between my surgeon’s secretary and my primary-care doctor’s secretary. So now the whole request process must begin again. Only it can’t begin again because I don’t have a primary-care doctor because my doctor is leaving to take care of the sick.

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So there you have it. I am an intelligent woman. I was a registered nurse for 14 years. I have friends in the medical mafia. I have access to major metropolitan newspapers. The loose screw is in my foot, and I don’t know how to get the screw ball rolling.

My only question is: If this is what happens to me, what happens to sick, needy people who weren’t nurses, who don’t have friends who are doctors, who don’t have health insurance, and who don’t have readers to cry to?


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