My Achin' Head
Gimme Drugs

July 9, 1999

Quite fortuitously I had an appointment with my PCP today. This woman has been my doctor for going on two years now, and today was the first time I set foot in her office.

Some time last year I had a really really bad ear ache and called for an appointment. The office ended up phoning a prescription into the pharmacy for me. She never even wanted to see me. This is good and bad.

If I had a long-standing relationship with this doctor I would have truly appreciated the fact that I wasn't going to have to schlep across town for her to look in my ear, say, "Yup, you have an ear ache," and then send me trotting off to the pharmacy. But this woman had never seen me and I thought it was a bit lazy and inappropriate on her part. OK, the ear ache went away but then about two weeks later I got a bill from her office for a $10 co-pay. I. Don't. Think. So.

Managed care has turned health care into a pure numbers game. With certain plans physicians get paid based on the number of subscribers they have from that plan, whether or not they see the patients. So, it behooves them not to actually see the patients.

Upon receipt of the bill for the co-pay I called the office and informed them that I had never been to their office, had no intention of paying this bill, and if I found that they had billed insurance for an office visit I was going to make sure that the HMO knew I had never been. Then I was going to report them to the Medical Board of California. Don't get me started. They told me the bill was in error and to disregard. Lucky them.

Anyway, I have had this weird pain in my back since Wednesday. It was around my kidneys so I thought perhaps I had a kidney infection. I used to get bladder and kidney infections a lot. So, I called the doctor's office and this time they actually wanted to see me. It took about five tries to get through since the line there is always busy.

They were going to squeeze me in at 1 today. I discovered that this is right when they come back from lunch so I figured if I was there right away perhaps I wouldn't spend the entire afternoon in the waiting room. And I will admit, I actually felt poorly enough that the option of going on a standby basis was not unappealing.

I got there at 12:55 and was taken into the exam room at about 1:30. There was lots of paperwork to fill out and they warned me there would be a wait so I was OK with this. Then, the nurse left me at about 1:35 and said the doctor would be right in. At 2:05, and all the comics in an issue of the New Yorker later, no doctor. I poked my head out and there she was, my doctor. She said she'd be right in. She finally moseyed in at about 2:15.

I was totally prepared to be all irritated with her and figured she'd spend two minutes with me, and give me some prescription and send me packing. But I was wrong.

She came in, introduced herself, sat down, and asked me what was wrong. She examined me, did the patient history herself, asked me a bunch of questions about what was wrong, and seemed actually interested.

On top of this kidney thing, about 11:00 today I started to get a sinus headache. Not your garden variety sinus headache--I get those all the time. This one was a killer. My entire face was tender. Even my teeth hurt. Please, please, please, please, please, give me something for the pain. Or shoot me.

"Let's go to the sample closet," she said. We walk back to this enormous closet, at least eight feet across, line with shelves about eight inches apart absolutely FILLED with samples of every drug imaginable. Zoloft. Prozac, Viagra, Celdane, and tons of stuff I've never heard of with those funky high-tech, miracle-sounding names that the drug companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for someone to dream up. She gave me four of these, eight of those, one of these and two of the others. Take this, that, and the other now, and use this one when you get home tonight.

Then she escorted me to the front desk, told me to come back in two weeks to check my blood tests and my kidney thing which turned out is sprained ribs (don't ask, I have no clue how I did that) and told me that she's on call this weekend so feel free to call her if my sinuses still hurt, or if I have any questions whatsoever.

The jackhammers behind my eyes and cheeks stopped pounding about an hour and a half ago. It's down to a dull throb and I think I'm going to live.

Oh, the last thing she said--no Nordic Track for two weeks.

We can all guess where I'll be hanging my clothes for a while.

Until next time. . .