Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Problem With Health Care: People

My uncle told me a story the other day that boggled the mind.

He has been experiencing some pain related to the surgery he just had. The pain is triggered when he breathes or sneezes; a couple of weeks ago it became severe and consistent enough where he thought it was time to make an appointment with the doctor. He was also experiencing some nausea at this point.

So, on a Thursday morning not too long ago, he picked up the phone to call his doctor. This endeavor led only to an exercise in "automated switchboard gymnastics" as he put it. He finally managed to press his way into the voice mail of his doctor's nurse, explained his symptoms, and asked her to have the doctor call him back. Several hours later, she returned his call, told him that the doctor was in surgery, and that someone would call him back after 3 p.m.

At 9 a.m. the next morning when he hadn't heard anything, he called back and left another message. He finally got a return phone call at 6 p.m. that night wherein the nurse informed my uncle in a manner equivalent to one that someone might use to convey the discovery of a cure for cancer that the doctor agreed that the doctor would like to see him. An appointment was set up for the following Monday, which was the earliest possible time he could get in.

Friday night he was in so much pain that he would have driven himself to the emergency room if he could have moved. Fortunately, by Saturday, the pain had subsided somewhat, so he waited for Monday to roll around.

Monday he drove to his appointment only to discover that the parking lot was full. So was the next one. And he assumed by the guard chasing him out of the third parking lot that it is full also. He spent 30 minutes looking for parking, which involved going over multiple speed bumps, which, when one has just had a kidney removed, feels "like it is tearing something inside." He finally found a spot about a 15 minute walk away from the office. Oh, and this office? Not the one he normally goes to. This office is an additional 10 miles away in the part of Las Vegas sane people avoid, but I digress...

This was how the nurse greeted my uncle upon spotting him checking in:

"Oh, I'm sorry, the doctor isn't in today, he had jury duty."

No one called my uncle to cancel the appointment, either at his house or on his cell. As my uncle is standing there trying to figure out something to say that doesn't involve explicatives, the nurse continues to inform him that unfortunately, there are no other doctors that could see him today in the absence of his doctor.

Now, my uncle just had a kidney removed. Because cancer was growing on it. The surgery was supposed to take an hour and a half. It took four, and to my knowledge no one ever explained why it took almost three times as long as the doctor said it would. Now he's experiencing pain and nausea so bad that at times he can't move...friends, are you, like me, coming up with a million and one scary explanations for what could be causing this pain?

My uncle could. He asked the nurse, "Suppose something inside is bleeding?"

Her response?


My uncle was speechless. So he did the only thing he could do. He rescheduled for the following day. The next day, he did manage to see the doctor. It turns out he had an infection, so his doctor put him on antibiotics.

Now, normally, this is where the story would stop, but unfortunately, this one keeps going. While the medicine did help, it didn't completely eradicate the pain, so my uncle decided to go in this week for a second opinion. And thus began round two of Fun At the Doctors.

The second doctor performed extensive blood work and sent my uncle home while the lab work was being finished. My uncle received a phone call later that day informing him that one of the tests had abnormal results and could he please come down to the emergency room right away?

Cheerful news, isn't it?

Fortunately, after a CAT scan, the doctor determined that the pain was caused by a combination of scar tissue and the tightening of the bronchial tubes. My uncle is on stronger medication, and is supposed to be doing deep breathing exercises, so hopefully he is on the mend.

I don't think people would complain as much about the cost of health care if they were actually getting good service.


Growler said...

Sounds to me like a few of the go arounds my parents have had with their "health care provider".

I'm sorry your uncle has to be going through this. Its stories like these that make me petrified to get older.

Carolee said...

Thats scary!! Although I am not surprised by that nurse. I have come to realize how many idiots there actually are in this world.
Now, can you imagine if our health care where run by the government!! 10 times scarier. Every experience would be like going to the DMV!!

Queen Goob said...

"I don't think people would complain as much about the cost of health care if they were actually getting good service."

A-men Sista! I can't believe, after all your uncle has gone through, he was treated so poorly.

And Carolee? I WISH going to the doctor was like going to the DMV because around here? (I kid you not) I can renew my license and my tag and be outta there in fifteen minutes or less.

VE said...

This is why I hope I just drop dead and tip over one day...

Mrs. R said...

Growler: These stories are getting all too frequent.

Carolee: I had to laugh at your comparison to the DMV. I had never thought about it in those terms!

Queen: Can you send some Florida state workers our way? I've got some people I'd like them to meet...

VE: I'm with you, although my personal goal is to just die quietly in my sleep in my 90's.

Colleen said...

Wow, if I had been your uncle, my response to the nurse would have been something like, "If there is no doctor who can see me, may I please use your phone to call my attorney?"
Maybe your uncle should consider switching to the second doctor if possible. The first doctor obviously has incompetent staff members. I hope that his recovery goes better.

Mrs. R said...

Colleen: I LOVE your response. I'll have to save that for the next time we get incompetent customer service somewhere. I'm sure it will happen soon.

My uncle is doing much better, thank you.