If a doctor forced you to decide whether to keep your arm or your leg which would you choose? This is a ridiculous scenario, but figuritively speaking, chronically ill patients are expected to do that on a regular basis, sacrificing one thing they need in order to have another they need just as much.
I found this out first-hand when I began receiving services through SOURCE, a Medicaid waiver program that provides personal assistant services to people with disabilities who need help at home. When I first began with them I was told that I had to utilize a primary care doctor off a list they provided but that I could also keep any other doctors I wanted to keep.
The primary care doctor I had chosen when Emory sent me the certified letter kicking me out was somebody affiliated with Piedmont Hospital and although I wasn’t sure whether she was going to be able to help me get the necessary referrals to out of town specialists a staff person from her office called last week to say that she was in fact working on a referral to Vanderbilt and just to give her some time to get it facilitated.
She was unable (because Piedmont doesn’t accept direct Medicaid payment) and unwilling (because she didn’t want to be inundated with Medicaid Patient referrals) to sign up to get on the SOURCE list but I had been told by the SOURCE caseworker that I could have one doctor through their list and also keep her if I chose.
Today I went to the appointment with the SOURCE doctor I’d picked out (whom I will call Dr. HA). Dr. HA had wavy brown shoulder-length hair and was a little taller than I was; maybe about 5 ft 4 or 5.5 and of medium build.
She seemed nice but I could see fairly quickly that there were going to be numerous problems.
First, she wanted the records from Emory. This was a non-starter right off the bat and it seemed there was no way to make it out of this minefield unscathed. She told me that she had privileges at Emory Midtown (where Dr. H, my Pulmonologist works) as well as at Piedmont, and (strike 2) that “Emory’s good.” Uhhhh…Not so much, I thought.
I told her I’d been going there for 13 years and that it used to be but this past year something has changed, but she wouldn’t leave it at that. This turned into a game of 20 questions. She wanted to know what the political stuff was and on, and on. I reluctantly told her that there are numerous inaccuracies in my medical record and that two very important consults out of town had been sabotaged at the last minute, so I was not comfortable signing a blanket release for that medical record to any doctor, but that I would give her the objective information from test results, vital signs, etc.
“I won’t judge” she said Dr. HA in her thick Russian accent. “I can just go in and pull it since I am affilliated with them.” She then said she would also like the information on my chronically elevated liver enzymes.
“No, the clinical notes are awful. I’d rather you not. I would rather just close the book on it and not re-open any of that. I don’t want this stuff passed on from doctor to doctor.”
“If you don’t want me to look I won’t look” continued Dr. HA.
I’d heard this song and dance before and no longer trusted it. Signing such a release would have given her the legal right to access the electronic record as a whole and it was too big a risk. “I can give you the objective stuff. I have some of it with me and the data on my liver enzymes I can get for you if you need those”, I responded.
This doctor utilizes students from the Carribean and often 3 or 4 heads are better than one, and could ultimately be helpful but these were not residents but medical students so they were not as far along in their training as I’d originally thought. They all looked of West Indian descent with dark straight hair and dark skin.
One woman typed my medical history while another checked my vital signs and… checked my reflexes (ick). This more irritated me than scared me this time. I resisted the urge to throw that hammer across the room, LOL. As usual I had spasticity/hyperreflexia in my legs. She did not check the reflexes in my arms; just strength.
When it came up as to whether I wanted her to be my primary care doctor I explained that yes, for Source, and that Dr. P was already working on referring me to Vanderbilt and that I didn’t want to further delay that. This was a sticking point with her and she also seemed overwhelmed with the referrals I needed. She asked why Emory couldn’t just have me seen in their Movement Disorder clinic at which point I had to further explain that the Chief Medical Officer had kicked me out and then she wanted to know why, yada, yada…and I said that besides, I had never been referred there even before all that happened and that that was a big part of my problem; that the proper referrals to specialty clinics had not been acted upon when they should have been and with all the politicization of my case it would not really be in my best interest to go to their Movement Disorder clinic now even if I had not been barred from going as it is doubtful that I would get a fair and unbiased evaluation.
I went on to explain that I have rescheduled the one at UF Movement Disorder Clinic for January but that I need a doctor to sign off on the necessary forms for my oxygen concentrator to be carried on the plane and the one for the non-profit to cover my travel expenses.
“Really you need to have a neurologist to do all those things” said Dr. HA. “I feel it would be better for me to have back-up in case there ever was a neurological problem I don’t know how to handle.”
“I had two; one in Sleep Medicine who treated my Myoclonus and one in General Neurology” (giving her their names), “but Administration came in and forbid them to keep seeing me. I trusted them because they were going to support me through this process, but I had a really bad experience with a male neurologist and after that I don’t know if I can go to another one here in Atlanta. I looked and there was nobody of the ones available that I was that impressed with, besides, that male neurologist in the Emergency room was out-and-out abusive. I just really am hesitant after that.”
“Did you report it?” she asked?
“Well I know one at Piedmont who’s good…Dr. _____” (I will call this one Dr. HAA to avoid a mix-up as there are lots of these doctors who’s names start with H), I’d heard of him and can’t remember what his reviews said, but still…he’s a male neurologist. The thought of going through this embarrassing explanation as to what happened at Emory with yet one more Atlanta doctor, much less a male neurologist, was more than I could stand.
The primary care doctor, Dr. HA had me describe my Myoclonus, then looked up something on her phone. “Tramadol could lower your seizure threshold”, she said glancing over at me.
“I know, but the neurologists I was seeing didn’t think my Myoclonus was seizure-related, they thought it was due to the underlying disease-process, so I don’t think that is an issue. Besides, I’d already tested going off it for a few weeks and it made no difference in my Myoclonus at all. It’s much better on the 1000 Mgs of Keppra than it used to be before I was on it. I used to be up all night with it until 7 AM.”
The two students stared ahead making slightly uncomfortable faces at her apparent lack of clinical knowledge regarding the several different etiologies of Myoclonus. I noted it as well.
“Dr. P is in the process of setting up the referral to Vanderbilt. I’ve waited 7 months for treatment already and I really don’t want to delay it any longer. The neurologist may or may not even do that.”
“Let me speak with your caseworker” replied Dr. HA. “I don’t know why she told you to keep both of us. That doesn’t sound quite right for me to be for Source and she wouldn’t sign up but she will get paid to see you too when I went through the paperwork to get on their list.”
I handed her the caseworker’s business card and she dialed the number. “Ms. N? This is Dr. HA”, she introduced herself. “Yes, I’m here with Ms. Carlington in the office. She has told me that she was told she could see a doctor through SOURCE and also this one that she’s already established with who is not with SOURCE. I don’t think that’s right that she sees her and also me. Why did you tell her that? I don’t really appreciate it.”
Both me and the two female students in the room looked at one another awkwardly.
She put the caseworker on speaker. “I just figured she could do everything dealing with the neurological referrals” said the caseworker, “since she was already working on the referral. We really just need a doctor on record and since she was unable to get on the list I told the client to just pick one on the list for our purposes in addition.” And then speaking to me “Ms. Carlington, I guess you’ll just have to take this one on faith so that you don’t lose the home help. I don’t know what else to tell you if she won’t do it along with Dr. P.”
My heart sank “I’m beginning to think this is becoming more trouble than it’s worth. She wants me to see a new neurologist for the referral rather than her to do it if I switch to her. I don’t know any neurologist I trust and who knows if the new one would even give the referral. This could go on forever and I might never get to Vanderbilt at this rate.”I told her I just didn’t know what to do at this point, as I have had to change way too many doctors in a short period of time.
Dr. HA thanked her for speaking with her. I started to ask the caseworker if she’d be in the office when I got home so I could call her later, but she’d already gotten off the phone.
Dr. HA wrote me a refill of my Tradadol (but just 1 month’s worth) and told me that she’d give me a month to decide what I wanted to do, that she wouldn’t bother making copies of my records I’d brought with me until she knew I was coming back, then I followed her and the students back out into the hallway.
I need the referral to Vanderbilt but I also need the personal assistant. It’s not an either or situation. I need both equally. This is a real double-bind, but it seems if I get rid of Dr. P she won’t be too thrilled after she’s gone to the trouble of working on the referral to Vanderbilt, and she’s a sure thing and will save me time if she does it.
This newer primary care doctor is a question mark at best, and whether a new neurologist she recommends will follow through with the referral (if I can even get up the guts to see a local neurologist) is a total crapshoot since she doesn’t want to do it herself. It also makes me uneasy that she’s invloved with Emory on any level. Somehow in all these people’s self-interest I, the patient got left behind.
So many don’t understand the magnitude of my loss. I had two good female neurologists and they were ripped away from me when I needed them most. This is killing me. I need time to grieve. All this not being seen or heard and being required to fit into other people’s boxes I don’t fit just makes my heart ache and all I want to do is withdraw from everyone. Step out on faith? I can’t; not again for the umpteenth time. I need to eat what I like, keep to my routines, pace myself and not make too many changes too quickly. For me that’s a necessity; not a luxury.