I got dumped by my doctor yesterday. My endocrinologist to be exact. I’ve been with the guy since 2004, and I’ve given him some of the best years of my life. I don’t like the way he did it either. It was all too reminiscent of the way a guy I’d dated way back in another lifetime scuttled off. I called him. A woman answers the phone to clean up the mess. Phone breakups are bad enough. But to have a proxy do the deed for you—well, as they say where I grew up, that’s pure chicken shit.
There I was yesterday with my list of to-do’s. I’d waited until the school year’s clutter of grades, goodbyes, speeches, and room cleanings got done to do the things I needed to do for myself. (What’s fucking new?) I made my mammogram appointment. Check. Dermatologist appointment for a skin cancer screening. Check. Endocrinology appointment for the yearly check of my prolactin levels and probable MRI. Not check. The conversation went like this:
Receptionist: “Medical Specialties.”
Me: “Hello. My name is (blah blah blah) and I’d like to make an appointment with Dr. Nowheretobefound. I’m a patient of his.” I efficiently offered up my date of birth and spelled my last name.
Receptionist: “Dr. Nowheretobefound is no longer in the clinic. He has retired. He has referred his patients to Dr. Replacement. I can schedule you with him next week”
Me: “Dr. Nowheretobefound has retired?”
Receptionist: (In a voice as antiseptic as alcohol) “Yes, Dr. Replacement will now take his patients.”
Me: “Is Dr. Replacement an expert in pituitary disease? I’m not interested in starting all over again with somebody who is not an expert in that field.”
Receptionist: (Still saturating the wound with alcohol) “Dr. Replacement is who Dr. Nowheretobefound has chosen for his patients.”
Me: “Excuse me, but Dr. Replacement is not who I’ve chosen for my doctor. Sorry to be a self-advocate, but I don’t know this new doctor or his expertise. I need a pituitary expert. Is he a pituitary expert?”
Receptionist: (Alcohol is now evaporating) Ma’am, there is a pituitary program at Harborview associated with UW.
By now I’m overwhelmed and imagining only the Harborview emergency room—the regional trauma center that daily bustles with drug overdoses, car wrecks, and all the urban tragedies that I can generally ignore in my whitey tighty island world.
Me: “Thanks, but I guess I need to shop for a new doctor.”
I hit the end button on my phone and stare at it dumbly. I felt like I needed what I couldn’t have: chocolate, wine, and Oreos. I wanted to hear a cadre of best female friends tell me “honey, he was never good enough for you!” I turned to my husband instead.
“He retired,” he stated for the record after hearing my side of the phone conversation. I nodded. “Wow,” he said with that cautious but very sympathetic tone he uses when he sees I’m on the verge of a meltdown. “I’m sorry honey.”
“Shit,” I huffed as I plopped down to the computer and started researching the pituitary specialists the Puget Sound. I got lucky in my research and found what I think will be good care at the Swedish Pituitary Center. When I called there, the intake receptionist took a great deal of time with me and got much information in anticipation of an initial phone appointment next week.
Of course, that appointment is dependent upon all of my records arriving from the University of Washington and a referral from my primary care doctor. The records department clerk at UW was very helpful, and put my request in immediately. My primary care physician, however, has gatekeepers that could guard the president (and would spend less money on hookers). It took repeated attempts to get through the phone system because they were so busy. Then, when I explained that I just needed a referral, they wanted me to schedule an appointment to get it. “Oh, God, no,” I said, “there’s no doubt about my condition, I’ve had this tumor, and neurosurgery for it, and it’s grown back. I just need a referral so I can have an appointment after my endocrinologist retired. This is nothing new. Please, just get this request to my doctor.” I will have to check tomorrow to see if that message got through. I understand the need for protocols, I do. But I don’t like feeling like an intruder on my own care.
Finally, I don’t like being passed from doctor to doctor without so much as a postcard. How hard or expensive would it really be it inform patients of a retirement or departure? I mean really. Do I look like a woman who just hops into the office of any doctor I meet?