The other day a friend told me about a doctor who wouldn’t give him a referral for a vasectomy. Instead, the guy gave him a talk about how he was Catholic and had eight kids and it was great. When my friend’s wife wanted to get her tubes tied after giving birth to her second daughter, the hospital wouldn’t do it because they were Catholic, too.
I recommended my general practitioner, even though I got mad at him last year for telling me to reverse a modest weight gain. Come on, I quit drinking! It’s not hard to keep the pounds off when you substitute wine for dinner.
I can’t stay mad at him, though. I can always reach him on the phone. When I have a bug that won’t go away, he prescribes antibiotics over the phone instead of making me drag my coughing, feverish self into the office.
Best of all, he seems to be able to boss other doctors around. A lump in my breast? He calls the boob doctor and makes him see me that day–or six in the evening, to be exact. One Saturday when an ear infection caused me unbearable pain, he got my message and called me back at home, told me to go to the ER, and made an ear specialist meet me there.
This is all making me sound like I’m sick a lot, and I’m really not. He’s been my doc for about twenty years. I’ve had my gynecologist for about that long, and she’s great, too. She did the surgery for my hysterectomy and I barely hurt afterward and I have no scars. None. Either she is a supersurgeon or I am a superhealer, or maybe both.
I appreciate these doctors, because I’ve had my share of horrible ones.
I am pretty sure the doctor I went to as a kid was a total perv. I’m no expert, but I think you can check a kid’s ears and throat without grinding your crotch into her knees, or have a meeting to talk about her attention problems without feeling up her just-developing chest. The worst thing about him, though, was that he didn’t know what he was doing. He prescribed heavy doses of two different anti-seizure drugs for me (I am not epileptic), along with Ritalin (which counteracts one of these anti-seizure drugs), making me feel like a zombie in middle and high school, or more like a zombie than most students.
In college, I stopped having my period, and drugstore pregnancy tests were negative. Like a lot of young women, I had a preoccupation with dieting and thinness, but I didn’t realize this could cause you to stop menstruating. At the doctor’s office, an assistant had me strip from the waist down and put a big sheet of paper over my lap. I waited there so long that I was asleep on the table when the doctor came in.
“Don’t get up,” he said. He walked over and jammed something up my vagina. It must have been a speculum. It felt like a handheld vacuum. After a minute, he took it out and went over to his desk and started writing. I sniffled on the table. It seemed like he was never going to talk to me, so I asked him what he thought was wrong. He looked up as though startled to see I was still in the room. “You’ll need more tests. You probably have cancer.” I got dressed, crying, while he still worked at his desk.
I didn’t have cancer, any more than I had chlamydia, which another gynecologist told me was the reason I was bleeding all over after a Pap smear. Sadly, this was before I had the confidence to tell her, “Nope, it’s not supposed to hurt like it did and I’m bleeding because you did something wrong.”
I’m embarrassed that I let another very young doctor remove a vaginal cyst in the checkup room, without anesthesia, while I had to hold a challenging yoga position she suggested so she would have a good angle. This never should have happened. I’m not 100 percent convinced now that she was an actual doctor, although she was wearing Doc Martens.
My first foray into therapy wasn’t much better. On my second visit, I was talking about a horrible thing that happened to me as a kid and crying, as one does. My psychiatrist looked out the window and interrupted to ask, “Is it raining in my BMW?” I laughed and made fun of him. He was probably lucky that was my reaction. I broke up with him shortly afterward, with a version of “it’s not you, it’s me,” but it was definitely him.
I think a lot of us naturally defer to a doctor’s authority, and we want to be “good” patients, which is why so many bad doctors get tolerated, and why so many people don’t seek second opinions, which sometimes save lives. I try to remember now that although the doctor is hopefully an expert on medicine, s/he doesn’t have the knowledge I have about what’s normal and what isn’t for my body.
And if I run into a bad doctor now, I drop him or her immediately and find a new one. They can be hard to find, but they’re out there.