Last spring when I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, I got the pleasure of becoming the patient of two different cardiologists. One is your garden variety cardiologist (if there is such a thing). We’ll call him Dr. A. The other is an electrophysiologist, a cardiologist who specializes in heart rhythm problems. We’ll call him Dr. B. Over the last 15 months, I have seen Dr. B probably seven times to adjust the meds that keep my heart from doing the funky chicken and beating 180 beats per minute, give or take a beat here or there.
Both Dr. A and Dr. B agree that some people have this condition without ever realizing it. I do not know how that is possible. Every time I had a “spell,” I was very much aware of it. Believe me, the only thing weirder than your heart beating too fast is when you start counting the beats and realize sometimes it’s not beating at all.
Doctors may be brilliant in their field of medicine but that is not a guarantee that they have a personality. The first time I met Dr. A, I was laying in a bed in the cardiac critical care unit, hooked up to a heart monitor and wondering what the hell was going to happen next. He walked in, introduced himself, looked at my chart, asked me a couple of questions and told me I was a Type A personality and was having a panic attack.
That’s me, the ol’ Type A personality. Although I’ve had my share of “Oh, sh*t!” moments, I’ve never had what I would call a panic attack. I wasn’t having one then and I told him so.
That was a year ago and I hadn’t seen him since, as he’d foisted me off on Dr. B to figure out what exactly was going on with my ticker and how to make it stop. Well, not stop. Not entirely. That would be bad.
Dr. B was better in the personality department although I suppose when you’re busy saving people’s lives you can’t be expected to have a charming bedside manner, too. He is relatively personable, however, and has found the chemical cocktail that keeps my heart beating the appropriate 68 beats per minute with lovely blood pressure.
But Monday morning found me back at Dr. A’s office for a one-year check up. This appointment had been scheduled and re-scheduled three times, all at the whim of the office where Drs. A and B practice. I would come home to find a letter in the mail announcing my appointment was June 4, no, wait, now it’s June 15, no, wait, we’ve changed our mind again, now it’s June 21. Okay, whatever. I also had an appointment with Dr. B scheduled for June 23.
The weirdness started at the check-in desk.
“Who is your family doctor?” the receptionist asked, filling out paperwork.
Aww, geez, here we go with this again.
“I don’t have one.”
Seriously, I don’t.
“You don’t have a family doctor?” the receptionist looked at me like I was denying the existence of baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet.
“Where do you go when you get sick?” she asked, determined to fill in something on the form.
It sounds totally arrogant to say I don’t get sick. I do. But I don’t run to the doctor every time I get a cold and I’ve been blessed to enjoy basically good health.
“I go to the local family clinic,” I said, “but I just see whoever is available, it’s not like I have one specific family doctor.”
She looked very disapproving but filled in the name of the clinic, sans name of doctor. I got the feeling that my failure to possess a family doctor somehow labeled me as unsatisfactory.
It continued when the nurse took me back to the room to get blood pressure and pulse.
“Did you have a good Father’s Day?” she asked, all cheerful and chatty.
Hmmm. Awkward pause. Was that a holiday I was supposed to celebrate?
Let’s see, I’m not a father. My father died six months ago. Yeah, actually, I had a great Father’s Day at an agility trial but it certainly didn’t have anything to do with fathers. What the heck do you say? I’m never good at lying just to make small talk with strangers.
“My dad died recently,” I managed.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” the nurse said. “Did you have a good day with your husband and kids?”
Awkward pause number two.
“I don’t have kids.” Not even going to try explaining the dogs.
She gave me a pitying look and left.
When Dr. A appeared, he shook my hand and spent the next 15 minutes checking my treatment records with Dr. B on the computer. Yep, Mr. Personality was true to form. Apparently actually TALKING to the patient is no longer a good way to gain information.
When he said he wanted to do an EKG, I mentioned that I had an appointment with Dr. B the day after tomorrow and Dr. B does an EKG every time I go there so did he want to double up on the EKGs.
“Why do you have two appointments scheduled in the same week?” he demanded.
Because your freaking office scheduled them that way! Okay, I didn’t quite say that. But close.
He looked at me like I was an irresponsible idiot (let’s not go there) and told me insurance would not pay for two appointments on the same week for essentially the same condition.
Okay . . . so knowing that, why did your office schedule them that way? And, Point Two, why did I need to continue to see two doctors who were treating me for the very same thing? I wouldn't even say Dr. A was actually treating me for anything, all he did was review Dr. B's records. There's another $50 specialist's co-pay I won't get back.
Seriously, the problem with health care in this country is not entirely the fault of the insurance companies.
Having finally determined that the appointment with Dr. B could be rescheduled, Dr. A’s parting advice to me was, “You need to cut out the caffeine and alcohol.”
I sat and stared at him with my mouth open. Did I look like a buzzed-up lush? The irony of this is I don’t drink caffeine. I essentially decaffeinated myself about two years ago. And alcohol? Maybe two drinks a month. Maybe. I told him that. He told me to cut out chocolate.
Okay, that’s NOT going to happen. Besides, I did some research on the amounts of caffeine in your average chocolate candy bars and you’d have to eat something like 12 Hershey bars to equal the caffeine in one cup of coffee. If I’m eating THAT much chocolate every day, I’ve got a bigger problem than just caffeine intake.
The EKG was done and my heart rhythms were totally normal. I love it when someone tells me I’m normal. I could have hugged the nurse in spite of her earlier determination that I celebrate Father’s Day with the same fervor some people reserve for Christmas and New Year’s.