About this time last year, I found out that my doctor was retiring. And I knew that life was over as I knew it.
It isn't that I adored my doctor. I didn't. Rarely did our relationship stray beyond the prosaisms of a routine check-up, but I understood the reluctance for further intimacy on the part of a person performing my Pap smears.
Nevertheless, it was a comfortable relationship, at least on my part. It was simple. And, aside from the scourge of yearly mammograms, free of discomfort - physical, emotional, and spiritual.
A typical exchange between us would go like this:
"Are you trying to quit smoking?"
"What are you doing?"
"Well, I don't smoke in the house anymore, so that means I've cut back."
"Good. If you need any help with that I would be happy to prescribe a drug that might cause acute renal failure and/or episodes of extreme fear."
I am going to miss her.
I had a feeling that switching doctors was going to be traumatic. And it was. I had a couple of recommendations from the office secretary. After an Internet investigation, I promptly took them off my dance card. It was all about their hobbies. Dr. A's hobby was being active in the Christian Fellowship Evangelical Free Church, and Dr. B's was running. I'm sorry, but I didn't feel that I could share with either of these ladies the details of some my fonder memories from the '80s and their potential implications for my life expectancy.
I found a third doctor, Dr. C, whose hobby was reading. Which seemed sensible to me. However, Dr. C had moved her practice far away, and that led me to Dr. D.
By now I was getting desperate, since I needed my prescription for Synthroid renewed, without which I would become a blimp. So I chose Dr. D, since she was located only six blocks away, in spite of the fact that:
- She also listed running as a hobby. But she also listed music and reading, which I hoped would offset that (it didn't);
- In her profile photo, Dr. D looked like she was about 17, which placed her dangerously close to what I consider "Doogie Howser" territory. But she had a nice smile. Unfortunately, I never got to see it in person;
- Her name is Mary Kathleen, something that looks better in print than it sounds ad alta voce, when pronounced by an adult.
Obviously, I was a little nervous. And because I have been with the same doctor for the past 18 years, I was little prepared for what awaited me.
I started at the front desk, where it was remarked that I would be "establishing" (now, apparently, an intransitive verb) with Dr. Mary Kathleen. Weird grammar, especially that which smacks of corporate-spawned psycho-voodoo, has always put me on edge, so I was off to a bad start. I was then sent to another office, one floor down, to officially register. Why registering for a routine check-up had to be done in a remote location by a designated registration squad is a puzzlement but, hey, I work in health care and I ask people to do stupid things all the time. I politely cooperated, not wishing to emulate my more emotionally unstable patients.
After registering, I was treated to a brief session with a nurse who looked like she was about 17, too, and had lost her comb. She took my height and weight, pointing out that the height measurement included my shoes. I pointed out that the weight measurement also included my shoes, a remark I thought witty. It did not elicit a reaction.
The nurse started asking me questions. She seemed particularly concerned that I was depressed. Lord knows why. I have no history of depression. I am not on any medications for depression. I dress nicely, smile, don't slouch, and say please-and-thank-you. She was apparently reading off a list. I wisely answered "no" to everything.
Then came the alcohol questions, which were oddly numerous.
"Do you drink alcohol?"
(Yes. Thank God.)
"How many drinks do you consume a week?"
(Depends on how many places I find myself where they make a decent martini.)
"Do you get angry or upset with people when you drink?"
(No angrier or upset than I would if I weren't drinking. That's not quite true, but only when they deserve it.)
"Do you ever have a drink first thing in the morning?"
(I'm a little surprised that enough people answer "yes" to this question to warrant it being on a routine questionnaire. That certainly makes my morning commute a little scarier.)
The doctor came in. And then, no kidding, introduced herself as Mary Kathleen, with a thin-lipped smile that made me want to ask her the battery of depression questions. She did all the usual things that my old doctor did, but with a very different result. At the end of the consultation, during which I had endured a Pap test, I also had orders for:
- A complete blood chemistry;
- A colonoscopy. (Eight years overdue. I was hoping to dodge that particular bullet long enough for them to invent a different test);
- A mammogram;
- A bone density test;
- A shingles vaccine;
- A peripheral arterial disease screening;
- A low-dose CT scan to screen for early lung cancer.
("Why? What's wrong with you?" my daughter wanted to know. "Nothing, as far as I know," I replied. "My blood pressure's good.")
I balked at the CT scan. Mainly because it terrifies me, but also because I'm not sure it would do any good. I am also suspicious of medical tests advertised on TV. "So they find out that I have lung cancer," I said to the good doctor. "Then what?"
She gave me a withering look, one that told me I had just become my late mother. "Then they take it out and treat you," she snapped.
That's what worries me.
As I left, the doctor shook my hand without much enthusiasm. Maybe it was the Pap smear. "We'll call you if there are any problems with the results of your blood test."
At work, two days later, my phone rang.
I was busy, dealing with the same kind of smart-ass patients that I probably was, so I let the call go to voicemail. It was my new doctor's office.
"Please call us regarding your blood test. Ask for the nurse."
Maybe all those questions and test orders spooked me more than I realized. As I listened to the voicemail I freaked out. Heart pounding, I dialed the phone with a shaking hand, and was subjected to several minutes of Mozart (and look what happened to him!) before finally being connected to the rumpled nurse.
"The doctor is going to decrease your dosage of Synthroid."
(Wait...that's a good thing, right?)
"And you need to have a follow-up blood test in six weeks."
(Wonderful! The bruises from the first one should be gone by then.)
"And your cholesterol is a little high. The doctor recommends a low-cholesterol diet and exercise."
(Not more than 5 mg of cholesterol will ever pass these lips again. SO much easier than a low-dose CT scan.)
I went back to my desk to look up the blood test results, which were now posted on an electronic chart for my perusal. My cholesterol numbers were exactly the same as they've always been, and everything else was within the range of normal.
Just what I was afraid of, I thought, I'm not good enough for a runner. Sorry, Mary Kathleen, but I think that after I complete as much of the above testing as I can before the novelty wears off, I am going to disestablish? unestablish? myself from your practice. Which I can do, because - nyah! nyah! - I've got a PPO.
And I know how to use it.
In conclusion, I would like to add a heart-felt "fuck you" to the fat little troll who scheduled my upcoming mammogram. Who laughed when she asked me if I were pregnant. She also asked me if I had breast implants, to which I replied by throwing open my coat and saying, "Obviously not."
Sweetheart, you can stuff your Vera Bradley handbag right up your ass.