The Art of Controlling My Medical Care
We all need to be vigilant about managing our medical care. Responsibility weighs more heavily on our shoulders than on the stronger, sometimes younger shoulders of our health care professionals. Despite the heaviness, vigilance is more our responsibility than theirs.
Yes, you read that right. It is more our responsibility than theirs. I say this with a certain amount of bitterness. It’s a fact and there’s no way around it. So, for the sake of my sanity, I prefer to cut that bitter taste in whole or in part. If the best way to counter bitterness in food is to add salt and chicken stock, then what is chicken soup for a bitter soul?
Why not revenge, a dish best served cold? Though revenge is sweet, it can also cause unwanted consequences, not the least of which is chaos—and who wants that?
Whether you’ve run the gauntlet of misdiagnoses and biased, cynical doctors or spent years catching errors in those electronic medical records, wrong prescriptions at your pharmacy, or nightmarish emergency room and inpatient hospital experiences, feeling helpless is the worst item in a long list of emotions. Helplessness is at the core of outward anger. Depression, as Henny Youngman so funnily and accurately put it, is merely anger without enthusiasm. Can’t there be a coping tool that falls closer to the shinier, warmer part of the continuum?
What about cutting bitterness with acceptance? Taping a bland list of affirmations to my bathroom mirror and giving in to the indifference of underpaid, inexperienced medical staff? Not for me. No Kumbayah going on here, my friends. The stakes are too high to be passive about my medical care. A mistake in my care impacts only one person directly: me. And only one person cares deeply about the impact that has on me: me. It only follows that I should be the captain of my health care vessel with many advising officers, deck hands, and navigators in the guise of doctors, CNPs, nurses, pharmacy staff, imaging techs, radiologists, PTs, lab techs, and many more. I listen to their input and delegate functions. But since it’s my ship, carrying my brand, I have to man the night watch, swab the deck, hoist the mainsail, and various other duties to set an example and make sure we stay on course.
I’ve settled on cutting my bitterness by controlling my medical care. Today I prefer using this autocratic action verb to the more democratic term managing. They might mean the same thing, but my blood’s been up lately about some boneheaded moves made by various medical staff; managing sounds too much like a euphemism right now. I’m using a lot of energy lately resisting the urge to dope-slap the entire office staff of my primary care doc and my chain pharmacy. So please consider my mood. Following is just one incident that happened recently and how I handled it.
Office staff correcting you when they’re the ones that are wrong. I happened to run out of a prescription potassium supplement in mid-month which, I quickly discovered, happened because the quantity written on the bottle was only half of what it should have been. The pharmacy told me that was what the prescribing physician wrote on the prescription order and I would have to correct it at the source.
I called the doctor’s office and explained to the young woman on the phone about the quantity problem, but she just wasn’t getting it. She put me on hold to pull my record and came back with a bit of an attitude.
“It says we’ve given you 20 mg pills, one twice a day for the last three prescriptions,” she said in a more hurried, clipped fashion. “That’s 60 pills, just like what you have. . .” I swear she wanted to add: you idiot.
I resisted the impulse to rip her a new one. Instead, I pulled a special control lever in my gear box, the one labeled DIPLOMAT. In this kind of situation, I assume the role of the wise, humble, eternally patient middle-aged mother earth, calmly explaining the situation again to a youth that thinks she knows it all despite being too lazy to carefully read my medical notes.
“Yes,” I said, in calm, measured, breathy syllables, “that’s what I was taking, but your records should also show that I called you two weeks ago to change the pill strength from 20 mg pills to 10 mg capsules because 10s are easier to swallow. But I still have to take the same daily dosage, and that doubles the number of capsules. So that’s 4 capsules a day times 30 days equals 120 capsules. You only gave me 60. Do you see my problem?”
I heard the sing-song tones of an epiphany ringing in her newly-brightened, high little voice. “Oh yes! We’ll get that fixed right away and call in a new prescription!”
I know, I know. It played out more like I managed the situation rather than publishing a fatwa and scaring the bejesus out of everybody. I’d make a really lame dictator anyway. Whenever I use a big scary voice, people tell me I’m rude and run away. But I guess that’s a good thing. It makes me cultivate my diplomatic skills. If we want to have good care and quality of life then we need people, and it’s up to us make them feel like they want to help, even when they screw up and risk harming us.