It turns out my daughter’s a doc,
So’s her fiancee, no shock
At Community Health
You get lots, but not wealth.
Last night we sat down to talk.
Synopsis: I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In May 2010, I left my position of 23 years, and honoring my non-compete clause, traveled for a year doing locum tenens work. In June of 2011 I joined up with the Community Health Center, which provides care for the underserved. I’m now working part-time, which, for a doctor, means 54 hours a week.
Our oldest daughter, Jesse, finished her Family Practice residency in July. Bethany and I came to visit her and her fiancee, Winfred, also a family practitioner, in Tacoma. Jesse represents the third generation in her family in medicine; Winfred the second. Both grew up with medicine discussed at the dinner table.
All three of us currently work in Community Health Centers; my position permanent part-time, theirs full-time locum tenens. We had a great colloquium last night.
Patient falling with urinary incontinence and memory loss? “Normal pressure hydrocephalus,” Jesse said, even before I got to memory loss, and we talked about the handful of cases we’ve seen between the three of us. The discussion included the human drama of the cases along with a recounting of the physical exam and the MRI.
The question of “What’s your personal best TSH?” came up. Jesse had a patient with a 56, but once I saw a lab slip come in with “>105.” The TSH remains the most important thyroid test; the higher the number, the more desperately the body screams for thyroid hormone. My case dates from the last century, and I told the story, including pseudofractures, hyperparathyroidism, hypercalcemia, familial dysfunction, and bad physician communications.
All three of us serve underserved populations, which in this country means that our patients have very little money. For a variety of reasons, poverty and diabetes go hand in hand. Long a staple of therapy, insulin comes in a variety of strengths and costs, but none are cheap and we talked about the high cost of essential medications. I recounted my experience bringing insulin to Cuba on a medical humanitarian aid mission. In a small town, word spread quickly that I had brought a refrigerated package with me. A young woman, a prostitute who worked the hotel where I stayed, approached me. Her younger brother had diabetes and couldn’t get insulin because of the inefficiencies of Castro’s system. She made it clear she’d do whatever it took to save his life, ignoring my teenage daughter standing beside me. It broke my heart to tell her I’d turned the insulin over to the Red Cross the day before. Twenty years ago, $200 only bought 4 vials of an injectable medication that made the difference between life and death.
What beta blocker do you use? Jesse knows generic propranolol rates as one of my favorite drugs, but I prescribe it mostly off label, for migraines, panic attacks, blushing, and performance anxiety. Labetalol, which should be cheap because it’s been generic for so long, turns out to be very expensive; but the least costly one in my clinic, carvedilol, only lost its patent four years ago, and has a lots of good qualities. All three of us use a lot metoprolol. None of us start patients on atenolol, though we’ll keep people on it if they’re doing well.
None of us like prescribing narcotics or tranquilizers; Jesse and Winfred won’t prescribe sleeping pills at all. Not even trazodone? I asked, naming an antidepressant with good effects on sleep and chronic pain. Well, they said, maybe trazodone. How about Rozerem? I asked. It’s effective, minimal interactions, and no potential for abuse. But it’s so expensive, and insurance won’t cover it. I paused and thought and then admitted I’d given out samples but never written a prescription for it.
Tags: atenolol, beta blocker, blushing, carvedilol, Castro, Cuba, diabetes, hypercalcemia, hyperparathyroidism, insulin, Lantus, metoprolol, migraines, MRI, normal pressure hydrocephalus, panic attacks, performance anxiety, propranolol, Red Cross, Rozerem, sleeping pills, thyroid, trazodone, TSH