Saturday, February 20, 2010
Time: A Doctor Who Acts Like It Doesn't Exist
When I was a kid, I remember the doctor made house calls. Not the pediatrician; there wasn't one. He was our family doctor. And I remember being very angry indeed that he once was allowed to come into my candy-striped bedroom, stick a tongue depressor in my mouth and make me say "ah!" when I just wanted to be left alone to enjoy my raging fever.
But from an adult perspective, how wonderful that was. My parents didn't have to bundle up a sick little kid, drag her into the office and wait until the doctor could see her. Better for everyone, though less efficient use of time for the doctor.
Today, everyone's a specialist. Everyone is overbooked. No one has time to leave the office unless it's to visit the patients in the hospital. A doctor's visit means a long wait in the waiting room, then a long wait in the examining room, then, with luck, a pleasant though somewhat harried physician joining you with your chart in hand, asking what exactly seems to be the problem.
The good ones manage to come up with a name for the ailment and the treatment. Or sometimes you get sent for tests. Lots of them.
Yesterday I saw a dinosaur. He looked like a regular doctor but trust me, this guy was from the stone age.
Here's what happened.
We arrived for an appointment. Nothing serious, just a few things normal for bodies that have lived awhile.
"The doctor is running an hour and a half behind," the nurse said, looking around the waiting room. "If anyone wants to reschedule..."
It took awhile, but a couple of people bailed.
"This gentleman's getting a physical," the nurse said, looking at one fellow.
Another patient decided he could wait to see the doctor on another day.
We said we'd wait. We went out, got a coffee, came back and waited. And waited.
It was more like two hours than an hour and a half. But here's why we waited:
The doctor's staff went home at five. The building was empty. And the doctor kept on finishing his exams, taking all the time he needed with each one, explaining things to his patients, grabbing books to better explain what he was telling them, getting later and later by the moment.
Our appointment lasted well over an hour. The doctor showed no sign of feeling rushed, hungry, even the least bit impatient. He chatted, explained, asked questions, answered questions for as long as there were any questions to ask.
After a relaxed visit, with every single question answered and promises from the doctor that he would take care of calling any other doctors necessary, he moved on to the next patient. The last patient of the day. It was already seven thirty at night. He hadn't had dinner. And he still had to go to the hospital, check on his patients, and return phone calls.
My inner-mother-voice says he should restructure his days, make sure he doesn't book his day so full, allow himself time to eat, to rest. He cannot keep up this pace. He will burn out. It would also eliminate the ridiculous waits endured by his patients. When, I wonder, does he relax?
But he's a man comfortably in middle age who appears very happy with his profession, very excited and interested in medicine and in the people he treats.
Perhaps he has no life. Yet his life is very full.
Remember that line from Field of Dreams with Dr. Burt Lancaster? Later Dr. Burt has to step across the line to save a child's life, ending the miracle that brought him back to life and made him young so he could fulfill his dream of batting in the major leagues?
Ray Kinsella: Fifty years ago, for five minutes you came within... you came this close. It would KILL some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it. God, they'd consider it a tragedy.
Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham: Son, if I'd only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes... now that would have been a tragedy.