When I was a child and was literally dragged to Dr. What’s-His-Face for an annual check-up (less a check-up and more a ritualistic cadence of tsk, tsk, tsk’s) as he poked and kneaded and cold-handedly fiddled with my . . . which backs away from coldness . . . and shy’s away from evaluation like a cub scout whose self-built car elicits jeers from his Scout Master (who also happens to be his dad). The snap of gloves and odor of soap which resembled anti-freeze gave the doctor time to compose his subtle and sensitive conclusion: “He’s too fat and getting fatter and his fat is hiding his . . . which, for sanitary reasons may require the removal of . . . which was when I buckled my Indian Beaded Belt and disappeared until hours past dusk when a neighbor found me shivering beneath the front porch.
That incident was a painful secret which I’ve carried on my back for fifty years and continues to cause retreat when doctor’s or lover’s reach out. Such a sad burden to carry because of one unsympathetic phrase from a stranger who had no right being a pediatrician. I often wondered how he treated his dogs.
My mother’s ignorance and prostrating to figures of authority always meant that any run-in with any adult possessing even a pinch more authority than her resulted in stern and week-long pain. Just what exactly did these arrogant and sadistic adults possess that was never crossed? They had been appointed to their position because of educated insight which was never, ever, EVER questioned..
Which, of course, perpetuated a multi-century tradition which has continued even to this day. Most doctor offices have a small-framed notice somewhere above their “All services must be paid TODAY!” reminder which reads something like, “My profession hasn’t been questioned or challenged in three hundred years, so don’t try to be the first today!” And in you go to be examined, quizzed, and questioned only to receive a prescription scribed in ancient Egyptian and an “order” for physical therapy.
Do I sound somewhat angry? Of course I am! Doctors get paid enormous salaries yet complain about the escalating costs of malpractice insurance. Malpractice insurance exists because professionals are trusted and believed and paid. And for this degree of faith we get an educated guess of what might be ailing us.
But this is what I’m REALLY angry about: Two doctor’s at Froedert Hospital assured me my brother Rich did not suffer a stroke based on a CT scan. It was 48 hours later when I insisted they perform an MRI. Voila’! A clot in a vein feeding the occipital lobe (responsible for eyesight). Because of unconscionable arrogance my brother is legally blind while these two doctors suffer NO consequence. Upon discharge from Froedert, I was told that Rich was totally blind due to A) The Stroke and B) A severe seizure two days later. I made decisions based upon the information told to me by staff in the Stroke Unit. And guess what? He isn’t blind! Albeit his eyesight has been significantly compromised, but his field of vision is approximately 17″ in diameter! And the staff at Froedert?
And the worst example of guesstimating occurred this past weekend when Rich suffered a severe heart attack. The errors in order of appearance: A) Someone at the acute rehab facility removed his DNR bracelet, yet never informed the paramedics that he had a DNR order in effect; B) The paramedics, unaware of the DNR order, couldn’t inform the ER staff; C) When Rich went into arrest they performed heroic measures to yank him back to life including five minutes of chest compressions resulting in several broken ribs and the insertion of a temporary pacemaker to maintain his heart rate (why didn’t anyone call me while they repeatedly beat Rich? They called me after!) D) An ICU doctor called me and informed me that the ER stepped beyond Rich’s wishes and now, NOW I’ve got to decide if and when we reverse their . . . their, what . . . their adrenaline infused jump to action? And when YOU do decide he will . . . be gone.
For nine hours I held firm to Rich’s wish: DNR. And I would honor his wish just like I’ve always honored him. And I wouldn’t allow my own emotion, hope, or desire to shake my resolve. I spent nine hours picking up strength like a child picks dandelions. And upon my arrival at his room in the ICU he was semi-conscious, breathing on his own, and occasionally howling in pain as he coughed with broken ribs. The equivalent of The Cuban Missile Crisis was over and Rich, contrary to what the ICU doctor emphatically informed me, was alive, on his own, without my intervention. And even though he’d crossed that line, he’d come back, I think, just so we could laugh at the old, standard jokes as though it was the first time we’d heard them!
And those doctors? The heroic and uninformed professional, and the cardiac-specialized professional made two BIG mistakes and continue to work without consequence for their egregious and painful errors. Alas, that three hundred year old tradition continues.