Iowa house calls, back to Pennsylvania


For a house call I went to a store
Then expected one or two more
To come to my house
So I said to my spouse,
They’ll come in through the front door.

Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, travelled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I am back having adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record System (EMR) I can get along with. I spent the winter in Nome, Alaska, followed by assignments in rural Iowa and suburban Pennsylvania. After my brother-in-law’s funeral, and a bicycle tour of northern Michigan, cherry picking in Sioux City, I’m travelling back and forth between home and Pennsylvania. Any patient information has been included with permission.

While home in Iowa last week I made a couple of house calls.

One patient owns a business I frequent, and had called me when we were both on the way back to Iowa. Our professional relationship dates back well into the last century. We have watched each other progress professionally and socially. He gave me the go ahead to write the entire visit in this venue as a record, but, for the same reason I conducted the interview on the deserted freight dock and the exam in the store’s quietest corner, I didn’t. At the end, he personally helped me with my selections and would not accept money for the transaction; nor would I accept payment from him.

Another friend has had a problem building for months; we agreed on the next step: the specialist.

The garden has come in, and Bethany and I snacked on the first of the tomatoes, cucumbers, and green chiles; We invited company for supper on Friday. For a side dish, I cut sweet corn from the cob, added red onion, roasted green chiles, lime juice, and olive oil.

I took call for my Community Health Center the weekend. One patient discharged from peds on Saturday and one admitted on Sunday,far cry from a census demanding two docs to round both mornings, with one up all night to take admits and calls.

Tuesday found us back in Pennsylvania, at an Urgent Care, working 12 hour days, but this time we can walk from the hotel to the clinic. I like the medical record system. I can whiz through documentation for respiratory problems, but skin and musculo-skeletal problems need more narrative because no two are the same. A disproportionate number of patients come in with poison ivy.

Urgent Care, by definition, doesn’t include ailments that need follow-up or CT scans. I sent a number of patients each with suspected heart attacks, blood clots, or kidney stones to the local ER. People with bipolar disease tend to have very real, severe physical problems. I can treat those injuries, but getting at the root cause falls outside my scope of practice.

To those patients who come in, for example, with weight loss (now into the double digits working for this client) I say, “This is not normal, but there is a limit to what can be known an hour, and there is a limit to the lab we can run in Urgent Care. You need a primary care provider, and here is a list of labs that he or she might run.”

Nor can I effectively treat rheumatologic problems, but rheumatologic patients come to see me nonetheless. From time to time I run into people on Enbrel, and then we generally have a happy support group meeting. We talk about how the drug changed our lives; how, coming out of the pain we could engage emotionally with our families; and about how, outside the pain relief, we just feel better; (I feel better now than I did at age 18).

If I talk to a back pain patient on opiates, I tell them how the medication inhibits their own ability to make endorphins and perceive endorphins. Some express shock and amazement, and some just want me to prescribe the Norco, because “it’s the only thing that works.”

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