Friday, June 24, 2005

My Doctor Knows My Name

Just a little over a year ago I went to a new internist, Dr. L, who was highly recommended by my husband because he was current on all the latest research, as opposed to my old internist, Dr. N, who was a nice guy, but hard to get to see and not so current any longer. Dr. L pronounced me healthy, but noted a goiter in my neck. I said it had been there for almost 20 years and that Dr. N had told me it was only an odd bone in my neck and he dismissed it as not a problem. It was only when Rebecca said, “You don’t have a BONE in your neck there,” that I went back to Dr. L and asked him to pursue it. After putting me off as “not an urgent case” for several weeks, he referred me to an endocrinologist, Dr. C, who after a painful needle biopsy – imagine someone sticking a needle into your neck and extracting fluid and tissue multiple times – concluded that there were some suspicious cells, which then led to the removal of the right lobe of my thyroid with what turned out to be papillary cancer. I felt fortunate to have an excellent surgeon, a woman named Dr. H, who told me how lucky I was to have this form of cancer, which required no follow-up after surgery. It’s hard to get used to thinking about being lucky to have any form of cancer.

I waited and waited for Dr. L to call me and talk about how this might impact my overall health, thinking that that was the role of an internist – to look at the big picture. But the call never came. Dr. L never even called to tell me that he had followed what had happened. So while he was off learning about the latest and greatest in medicine today, he failed to learn my name and failed to know or care about what had happened to me. When I finally realized that he wasn’t going to call, I started thinking about getting a new doctor. I started asking people I knew if they liked their doctor and what experience they had had.

Rebecca said she thought Bill (the double bass player) had a female doctor he liked. Indeed he raved about Deb, as he calls her outside of the office, in the grocery story, walking down Mass Av on Capitol Hill. But he quickly remarked that he becomes Mr. V and she becomes Dr. E in the office – that she has an amazing ability to draw professional boundaries. He also told me that Deb was a first-rate musician, who happened to also play the double bass. That was last fall. I didn’t really need a doctor all year, so I didn’t pursue it.

But recently I decided that it might be a good idea to get a physical. By this time, through a series of odd coincidences I had started playing duets with Deb. I asked her if she was taking new patients, to which she said NO, but that she would make an exception for me. So I made an appointment for the next month.

On my way in to see her, I suddenly panicked and said to myself, “Are you crazy? This is the person who has become your friend through music. And you are now going to put on one of those skimpy gowns with all the slits and have her examine you? Absurd!” But I decided to go ahead anyway. Dr. E spent well over an hour with me, taking my medical history in the most minute detail. She seemed especially interested in my recent thyroid surgery – more interested in that than in my lousy skin and the fact that I had had three melanomas removed. She did all of the standard examinations very mater-of-factly. She had me sign a release form authorizing her to obtain my medical records from all my other specialist doctors. We shook hands upon completion of the visit, just as I would do with Dr. B or any of my other doctors. She never mentioned our music, but on my way out, said, “See you in a couple of weeks,” meaning the next time we were playing together.

Meanwhile, after the last time we played together, Deb suggested that David and I consider joining her and her husband Neal in Chautauqua for a week in July. As it turns out, David can’t go that week and I am going with my friend Bill (not the bass player). He will take full advantage of the Chautauqua program. I will play music and when I am not playing, listen to music, or ride my bike around, or just read a good book.

All of the blood and urine tests from my physical came back normal, so I assumed that I was pronounced healthy. Deb called me one night this week to talk about Chautauqua lodging and other details. Then she asked if she might change hats and talk about a couple of concerns about my health that had arisen since my physical. She had just that day gotten all of my records from various and sundry doctors. She had actually consulted a well-known endocrinologist about her concern that the surgeon had not removed my entire thyroid gland, with the knowledge that there were two small nodules in the remaining half. It turns out that one of them has increased slightly in size since my surgery. She was also concerned that my thyroid numbers are not where she thinks they should be. Part of me is tired of thinking about my thyroid gland, but another part was jumping up and down saying. “I finally have a doctor who knows my name and who really cares what happens to me. Hallelujah!” She recommended that I get another opinion about how to proceed with my thyroid issues and said she would bring some names of good endocrinologists the next time we got together. She also said that she would carefully monitor my bone density because the loss of thyroid function could bring on osteoporosis. No one else had told me that!

Although I don’t think of Deb as my doctor when we are playing together, it will be somewhat reassuring to know that I am going on vacation with my doctor, just in case I need her professional help! By the way, in addition to being a great doctor, she is a terrific musician, who is incredibly patient with me and makes me feel good about my half of the duo. I feel really fortunate to know Deb, Dr. E.

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