It’s amazing what a little time and serotonin can do. In addition to it’s role in mitigating and preventing depression, this clever little neurotransmitter also helps us sleep, eat, wake up, cope with stress, solve problems, burn calories, repair liver damage, regulate body temperature and not bleed to death if we cut ourselves. As I’ve sorted out my troubles with antidepressants and cancer medication since last fall, I’ve often felt, especially over the last few weeks, like I was hanging onto a runaway roller coaster car with one hand. If I’d had a mood ring, it probably would have been black for a good part of last week in particular. If I had one now though, I think it would at last start displaying a nice, even hue, but it was an uncertain thing for a while there. And I had to endure all this without being able to call upon a medical oncologist who might have helped me, because I am still trying to find one I like.
One of the more irritating aspects of being a cancer patient (besides having cancer) is the reality of having to acquire, suddenly and under duress, several new doctors. I’ve managed to keep things fairly simple over the years, mainly by being pretty healthy, so most years, the only doctor I’ve had to deal with is my primary care physician. Then one day, these funny spots showed up on my annual mammogram, and I had to hurry up and find a whole bunch of new doctors. The search process I was now forced to engage in was akin to finding out that my life might depend on beating an Afghan terrorist at guerrilla tactics. In a state approaching panic, I had to research something I knew almost nothing about and didn’t ever want to have intimate knowledge of in the first place, then find someone to help me do battle with it, and finally take a leave of absence from work to deal with the whole ugly mess. All with no guarantee that I would succeed or even live to tell the tale, and with a fair certainty that even if I did, I’d be bruised and battered for a long time.
I have thus far lived to tell the tale, but the road to cancer survival has hardly been smooth. One of the potholes came from an unexpected source. After the breast cancer surgeon and the plastic surgeon and the radiation oncologist and maybe the gynecologist have had their way with you, the medical oncologist is the person who advises you about chemotherapy, should you need it, as well as the person who is supposed to help you decide how much recurrence risk you can live with for the next several years and what to do about it. An important person, I’d say, right up there with my PCP. So when I needed one, I decided to look for one at a breast health center that both my surgeon and my radiation oncologist mentioned. Billing itself as “a specialized resource for patients and a consultative service to physicians offering [….] a full spectrum of contemporary treatment options[, the] Center has perfected a model program for total breast care, developed all the necessary educational and support systems and assembled a multidisciplinary team of women’s health specialists.” Sounded promising.
Everyone knows you can often tell a lot about a doctor by the staff that supports her practice. Even when that is not an accurate predictor, the behavior of schedulers, receptionists, nurses, lab technicians and others who contribute to your experience as a patient have an enormous impact on how well you do and how you feel about your doctor. During the two appointments I had with the medical oncologist I consulted at this breast health center, not one member of the support staff smiled. After my first visit, when I tried to call the doctor with questions, I could not get anyone to give her a message or provide me with another way to reach her. Because she only had office hours there one day a week, which was a day I worked, I scheduled my second visit so that I would be her first patient of the day. When I tried to find out why the doctor still had not shown up 45 minutes after my visit was supposed start, I was told, “Well, you’ll have to ask her that.” When she finally did arrive, it turned out she had called the office from her car to let her patients know she was running late. I give her credit for asking the staff why they did not relay her message to me, but she ended up giving me only a harried ten minutes of attention. Nor did she provide me with a better way to contact her or suggest another place to visit her in the future. Not an auspicious beginning.
The medical oncologist I am now hoping to consult does not affiliate with the infamous breast health center, one of my criteria for choosing to give her a try. She has a pleasant, efficient nurse charged with speaking to new patients, gathering all their pertinent records and getting them to the doctor. Once the doctor reviews your record, she has this nurse schedule your first appointment with her, which is an hour long. I’ve managed now to obtain and sign all the record release authorizations I needed. When I call her office, I either get to speak to this nurse immediately or she calls me back within an hour. All the paper records should get there soon and my appointment will at last be scheduled. In the meantime, I have the nurse’s direct phone number and email address if I need anything.
Ahhhhh, that’s more like it. I feel better already.
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