No, this is not some gimmick to hype a new book, although a book with a gynecologist hero would be kind of fun to write. :) I really will be writing about why my doctor and I parted ways. I realize this is sort of an odd spot to be talking about this, but if I can post on here to vent about nude peep-toes, I figure paddling down a tributary from that tangent probably isn't such a stretch, especially if that post might contain information that could possibly help someone on the health front. The saying, "If you have your health, you have everything," is absolutely, in my opinion, true.
Some years ago, my gynecologist, a wonderfully patient-focused and talented physician, retired. Happy for him but kind of bummed for me, I decided the best course of action was to become a patient of his replacement and see how things went. Certainly the new doctor couldn't be that bad...
My first visit was my last. I am a patient and trusting individual who respects medical doctors and their expertise, but a number of red flags went up before and after the exam. Normally, like many people, I would just shrug these off and tell myself anyone can make mistakes. But this wasn't anyone; this was someone I could, in the future, be trusting my life with, and these were my girl parts we were dealing with, not my fingernails or eyelashes or something that I can get at the local drugstore if I broke one. Last I checked, they don't sell ovaries by the box at the local pharmacy. I went to my appointment optimistic, but that soon was replaced with a feeling of anxiety.
First, I noticed the container they would use to send my pap sample away had the wrong last name on it. Sitting there, freezing, on the exam table, I made a mental note to mention it and hope it would be corrected before being sent out. Not a terrible thing, but a notable mistake.
The next red flag is one that may not bother other people, but it drives me nuts. I'm sitting there, trying to think happy thoughts, which is useless at the gyn's office because the exams always end up with something called a specula being used. That, along with the terrible fear that I will sneeze and shoot the blasted implement right into the doctor's forehead, injuring her irreparibly while she's got me in a completely vulnerable position, puts my nerves into overdrive. Suddenly, though, I found a way to take the pressure off me--I tuned into the nurse making phone calls right outside the office door. One of the nurses was contacting patients, and I could hear every word. I learned an awful lot about the health of the woman on the other end of the line, including her name and other identifying information that should have been kept confidential. Perhaps the nurse didn't realize she could be heard, but still, it made me uneasy. Most doctors' offices have a room for patient consultations, and I know my doctor did at one time. Had they removed it? If so, when they called me, who would be listening to private details about my health?
Finally, my new doctor came rushing in. Unlike her predecessor, she didn't ask many questions and when I volunteered health history, she shook her head and said that family health history didn't matter. Huh? She got straight to work and told me I had what I will call Issue XYZ. Many women have this, she said, and explained little else because she planned to give me some pamphlets on Issue XYZ. Guess what happened? Yep, I never did get the pamphlets. A later Web search provided some information, but the Web is not supposed to be my gynecologist, and it's certainly not paid to be. I had questions and no one to go to for answers. Grrrrr.
When it was over, I got dressed and left the exam room, pondering what to do. I mean, after all, what happened--the mistake with the name, the abrupt bedside manner, the lack of confidentiality, the promise of information that never materialized--they could all happen at any doctor's office, couldn't they? Was I just being a fussy, demanding patient? The kind doctors hate?
No, I hadn't been. I'd been nice, and that niceness had pretty much been met with indifference. I couldn't get the nagging idea out of my head that as someone paying a lot of money to take care of my health, I deserved better. I shouldn't be left feeling like a child who'd asked for some attention and gotten a scolding for it.
So, when I made my next appointment, I told the nurse I wanted to switch to another doctor in the group about whom I'd heard really good comments, and she switched me. I wish I could say that was the happy ending I'd wished for, but it wasn't right away. They were fine with switching me, except to keep my yearly appointment, I would have to go to the nurse practioner due to the doctor's busy schedule.
No problem, right? Right, except that if you allow it, some offices will keep scheduling you with a nurse practitioner forever. This would probably have been fine except that this particular nurse practitioner, a person who was supposed to be my health advocate, always seemed too fatiqued to talk with me more than one minute about any of my concerns, including Issue XYZ. I always try to not take too much time or ask too many questions, but this woman acted like I should realize that at 4 PM in the afternoon, her job was to stick in the specula, complete the standard checklist, and go home.
After my second appointment where I left feeling like I should have just gone in, spread 'em, and left, I told the office rep that I wanted to see the actual doctor.
"It'll will take an extra month to fit you in. He's pretty busy," she replied, poised to put me down again for the NP.
"I'll wait," I said, returning her smug smile.
And that is where the happy ending came in. At my next appointment, the doctor told me that a visit with the NP is just a stopgap measure and that he was glad I decided to wait to see him. I've never seen anyone since, and I won't. He knows what he's doing, and he takes time to explain what needs to be explained, including Issue XYZ. I try not to take much of his time, and he appreciates it, but he also makes sure I leave his office fully informed.
Why am I writing this post? Because our health is an incredible gift, and the people we trust it to should be worthy of that trust. Too often patients ignore red flags that later turn out to have been signs that something was terribly wrong. Would the first gynecologist ever have put me at real risk? Who knows? I wasn't about to hang around and find out. I've come to learn that if I feel uneasy about something, there's probably a good reason for it.
In short, if you feel the wind from a red flag whipping in the breeze, don't ignore it. It's much better to make a needed change than to look back thinking, "I should've have known when..."
Have a great Thursday!