My personal experience with the health care system was about 8 years ago, due to kidney stones. On the day I went to the emergency room, my day was a normal summer day. Get up at first light, walk the dog, eat breakfast, and then start the daily chores. Then, I found myself doubled over in pain, nauseated, and blood and foreign material secreting instead of urine. Denise took me to the emergency room, where I was placed on a gurney in the hallway, for there were not enough “rooms” to admit me. I was there for an hour before a doctor finally saw me (The doctor was not allowed to see me until I was admitted…). While waiting, I spent most of my time in the bathroom attempting to urinate, defecating, and vomiting; every time this happened, they wanted samples. Because I wasn’t admitted, nobody from the hospital would talk to me or let me know anything, but they assigned a nursing intern to collect the samples. When I first produced the sample of “urine,” that looked more like spaghetti sauce, she asked, “Is that normal?” I knew then that the US health care system was severely broken!
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of last year, and then lost her husband at the beginning of this year, so she asked me to go with her to doctor appointments and procedures. Denise and I tried to convince her that she should go to Moffitt, but she chose not to because she wanted to be treated locally. Thus, the trip down the rabbit hole began…
Her first visit was to the surgeon (Which didn’t make any sense to me, but what do I know?), who explained that she HAD to have a lumpectomy (We’ll, duh, that is how he makes money.). Unfortunately, I was unable to attend that meeting so my aunt attended and took notes. I attended from there on. During this first visit she was not informed of the type of cancer or if the cancer had spread – only that she had a malignant tumor.
Our next visit was to the medical oncologist. We arrived an hour early (as requested) to complete a medical history checklist. When we finally saw the doctor, he examined her and said she would have to return after the surgery to schedule treatments. We had to ask for an explanation of what kind of cancer she had and what the recommend procedure was. At this time, he informed us that the pathology report was still not available, so he couldn’t answer the questions. When I asked how they could recommend a treatment (e.g., monitor, lumpectomy, mastectomy, etc.) without knowing the pathology, he said, “The surgeon cures you and I am responsible for keeping the cancer from returning.” Why were we seeing him then?
The third doctor’s appointment was with the radiation oncologist, which was in a different building, but under the same “Cancer Center.” We arrived at 9:45 a.m. for a 10:00 a.m. appointment and were given paperwork to complete (the same paperwork we completed at the previous appointment); the receptionist said, “They will call you back in 15 to 20 minutes, so complete as much as you can.” At 10:30 p.m., I inquired why we had not be seen yet. She didn’t know, but made a call to check. Fifteen minutes later, a nurse came out and said they were waiting on the paperwork… We immediately turned it in and were finally called back at 11:15 a.m., where a nurse asked my mother all of the questions she had just completed on the information sheets, and entered them into a computer. Finally, at 11:45 a.m., the doctor entered. He wanted to examine my mother (still don’t know why…), so he called for the nurse to bring a gown for my mother. The nurse brought the gown and tossed it on her, as she sat in a wheel chair, and left the room; I had to help her change. Finally, two hours and fifteen minutes after arriving at the doctor’s office my mother was seen by the radiology oncologist. Just as he was beginning the exam, his cellphone rang; and he answered it! (I informed him he was unprofessional and borderline unethical; he didn’t seem to care.) After the exam, we again asked what the pathology of the tumor was, and he didn’t know either. We asked if he would be in the operating room and performing radiation treatment at the time of the surgery; “No, we don’t do that here, but some places like Moffitt are doing that.” Again, why did we have to see this person to get cleared for surgery?
The final doctor’s appointment was her primary physician. Sigh. While we were there, he decided that he needed to text during his examination with my mother. (I didn’t say anything because my mother likes this doctor.) He, at least knew the pathology of the tumor, but said it was not his place to discuss it with us; it was the oncologists’ responsibility because he is the expert. The sad irony is that my mother’s kidney specialist (Stage III), and her cardiologist (pacemaker) signed off on the surgery without ever seeing her.
Other than a three-hour delay (arrived at 6:30 a.m. for a 9:30 a.m. surgery and she was taken back at 12:30), the surgery went well. The surgeon spoke with me after the procedure, and said the pathology on the lymph node was clean and the surrounding tissue margins were clean. We’re almost there – not.
Several days later, she contracted colitis and spent a week in intensive care and another week in progressive care. She then transferred to a rehabilitation facility to rebuild the atrophy caused by being confined to a bed for two weeks. After being in the rehabilitation facility for a week, she became ill again, showing the same symptoms as the colitis. She was ill on Friday morning, and her assigned doctor was making rounds, but refused to see her. Yes, a woman in rehab because of an acute bout of colitis was showing the same symptoms and the doctor never examined her. She ended up in the hospital on Saturday morning for another week’s stay combating a different strain (highly contagious) of colitis.
Two months after the surgery, and we finally had a follow up visit with the surgeon (although he came and billed her while she was in the hospital). He drained 400 cubic centimeters (a little less than a pint) from her swollen breast (almost twice the size). We have to return again in two weeks. And, we still don’t know exactly what type of cancer she had. At least he didn’t have his cellphone with him!
When you research breast cancer treatment, it says a “team of doctors” will consult and recommend treatment. From our experience, this never happened. How can they claim that they consulted, if they don’t even share medical histories in the same medical group? Why did four different doctors have to perform (and bill for) an exam, if they were not communicating? Why would a doctor, less than 100 feet from his patient, not walk to her room and complete an exam of a sick patient? As Denise and I age, I’m petrified of the health care that we will receive, if this trend towards medicine for profit continues.
On a positive note, Lucky had to visit his doctor this week, too. I wish people could receive the extraordinary care he does at the Animal Hospital of Palm Bay. Dr. Jason Frydenlund and his staff are phenomenal. Denise called and explained Lucky’s eye was red and they wanted to see him immediately. They were going to squeeze him in that morning, but Denise couldn’t make it, so they saw him that afternoon. The next day they called to see how he was. On previous occasions, we’ve called the office and actually spoken to Dr. Jason – not just a nurse. Imagine if we could do that with people doctors too…
The final point is that on Dr. Jason’s doors entering the examination rooms, there is a sign that says something like, “Please silence your cellphones. If you choose to answer it, the doctor will leave the examination room.” In other words, a veterinarian doctor has more respect for his non-human patients, than some medical doctors do for their human patients.