Archive for the ‘Being a doctor’ Category

Contentment and birthday pizza

August 13, 2017

At the end of a beautiful day,

We caught the sun’s reddened ray

We snacked on raspberries,

Pizza and cherries

And then we went on our way.

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, traveled 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 went back to traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

Different organizations have different ways of celebrating birthdays. During my New Mexico years, I got used to bringing food for the clinic when I marked a change in age.  I continued the habit into private practice and Community health.  Mostly, I had Bethany pick out a good selection from Panera.

One of my colleagues ticked just a little closer to 40 last week, and a selection of cupcakes appeared in the clinic. And, at the last-minute, he and his wife put together a pizza-based gathering after work.

Bethany and I drove out to his house at the outskirts of town. He has had black bear, grizzly bear, deer, moose, wolves, and caribou in his back yard.  But on this particular evening we contented ourselves with stories of close wildlife encounters.

The docs drove up, one by one. Before the noise disrupted conversation, I showed off my trick of sharpening knives on the back of a ceramic plate.  Till the pizza arrived, we snacked on chips, and sweet cherries freshly picked in southern British Columbia.

We ate the pizza at leisure. I’ve written in the past about how doctors tend to bolt their food because we never know when we’re going to get called away.  These physicians know how to work hard but more than that they know how not to overwork.  We enjoyed our food.  We chatted.  Topics included economics, politics, horticulture, wildlife, and medicine.  We recounted various places we’d been.  Perhaps because of my country of origin, we had some lively history discussions, fortunately none of them mentioned the Fenian raids, where renegade Americans tried to invade Canada shortly after the Civil War.

The day waned, and I relaxed. Forest fire smoke takes the clarity from the air but it makes spectacular sunsets.  In this case, the solar disc reddened well above the horizon, while cool evening breezes mixed in with the heat of the day.  I reclined after a good day at the clinic and in the late stages of a great summer.  I had worked but not too hard, I had eaten but not too much.  I had chatted knowledgeably but without pedantry.  I had sharpened the knives, but no one cut themselves.

I wallowed in contentment, thoroughly in the moment.

After a bit we toured the grounds. We picked raspberries and ate them immediately.  We saw the Saskatoon berry bush, trampled by the visiting bear.  I looked for the peach tree I had seen earlier.

And when the mosquitos came out, we said good night.

 

 

Patient Transfer and Push-back

August 12, 2017

The specialist just needed a chance

To vent his frustration and rants

Just as expected,

The referral’s accepted

Sorta what I thought in advance.

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, traveled 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 went back to traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

I listen to the subspecialist’s voice on the phone, and I can hear the overwork through the bluster, asking me what I think he can do for the patient that I can’t.

The local term for what he is giving me is “push-back.”

I got a lot of it from Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC) in Anchorage when I would try to transfer a patient. Even before I would pick up the phone, I knew I’d be attempting to enlist the cooperation of a physician close to burnout, with a service already bursting at the seams, analogous to pouring gallons into quarts.

In another century, in another country, I faced push-back from every rung of the hierarchic ladder at the academic hospital, when I had to ship out a patient with Reye’s syndrome. With vomiting, altered mental status and a swollen liver, I had made the diagnosis in less than a minute, and spent two hours proving it with lab, while late evening ticked into early morning. The medical student, intern, and resident all tried to block the transfer, but passed my call up the food chain.  The presentation to the chief resident, polished by the first three layers, included answers to the questions posed by the underlings in a coherent, rapid fire fashion.  In the silence of a 3 second pause I could hear something in him break, a resignation to the inevitable, and then he said, “Well, I supposed I’m going to have to accept the transfer.”

(I’ve not seen a case of Reye’s syndrome before or since; it disappeared when we stopped giving children aspirin. That particular patient recovered completely.)

I never ran into push-back in New Zealand. The physicians at the university hospital sounded fresh and cheerful every time I called.  But they have a different system; following the online flowchart weeded out the majority of unnecessary calls.

Today I catch the subspecialist in at the university hospital fresh, in the middle of the afternoon.  He fires off a list of questions, interspersed with complaints of thinly spread resources.  When he pauses, I confess I use a whiff of sarcasm when I say, “Would you like me to answer, or would you like to keep going?”

I figured out, early in my private practice years, that I spent more time and energy trying to avoid work than actually doing it, and I quit pushing back the ER docs when they called me to admit a doctorless patient. Because I built up good will, about every 7 years, when I really needed to, I could dodge an admission.

Between my sarcasm and the chance to rant uninterrupted, the subspecialist loses momentum, and in the silence over the phone, I can hear something break. Resignation replaces resentment when he accepts the admission.

I later learn he has a reputation as a good, caring, skillful physician in a badly understaffed situation.

I feel for him. I hope he doesn’t burn out.

A very long taxi ride back

July 26, 2017

The day sure started out slow

It went fine, but wouldn’t you know

To make the trip back

I caught a ride in a hack

And the driver made satisfactory dough.

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, traveled 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 went back to traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

The day on call went smooth and slow to start, with fine, solid naps in the morning and afternoon, caring for 5 patients. On the brink of leaving for the day on time, I knew I had to stay when the ambulance radioed in news of two injuries from the highway.

I have to confess my ambivalence when it comes to airbags. Front airbags don’t add much safety to modern seatbelts, too often they activate when they shouldn’t.  Side airbags, on the other hand, provide another layer of protection that saves lives.

I have never before attended survivors of crashes where airbags deployed. I developed the term “bag rash” to denote an abrasion from the airbag, and the patient gave me permission to write about it (and more).

Right when most people would sit down to dinner, the ambulance brought in another patient with problems exceeding our hospital’s capacities; in fact, requiring trained escort for the trip to Prince George.

The responsibility fell to me because nursing staff could not be spared from the hospital.

The back of the ambulance amplifies a road’s imperfections. I did my best to meditate through my nausea as we sped down the highway.

We stopped at the EMS station at the halfway point. Not all stretchers (in EMS-speak, carts) can lock securely in all ambulances (EMS-speak, cars).  I can’t detail here the complications that demanded a change of ambulances and crews, but I got to stretch my legs and breathe in the cool pure air, and ride in a much more comfortable seat.

I turned the patient over to the ER doctor, we volleyed a bit of French, and then I had to confess to the staff I’m not really Canadian. I have been working on my accent, after all, and I don’t obviously sound like an American at this point.

Then I called a taxi: the ambulance that met us would only go back as far as the halfway point.

A very long time ago, my pre-med biology lab partner drove cab, I rode with her a couple of times. She clued me into the details of the business.  In the States, the cab company rents cars to drivers.  The drivers don’t start making money till they’ve made up the fee, and some shifts they don’t make any money at all.  Bidding on the best cabs goes by seniority, and the new drivers (at that time) drove uncomfortable, unsafe vehicles.

As we rode, I interviewed the driver, just like I interview patients. He speaks fluent Punjabi and Hindi and a bits of Tagalog and Mandarin, but has forgotten the French required of all students in Canadian schools.  His English carried a perfect northern British Columbia accent, but I found out he’d been born in India and at age 10 moved to the very town we were headed to.  As the daylight faded into twilight, and as the long northern twilight deepened to dark, I listened.  He worked in the pulp and paper business till age 55 and started driving cab a couple of years later.  He doesn’t rent the hack from the owner; he keeps 45% of his fares.  He makes good money in the winter, but not in the summers.

We came into town in the darkness, talking about aurora borealis. He pointed out places from his youth, but had to be directed to the new hospital.  He showed me where the movie theater used to be.  They changed the films three times a week, he said, and he went to all the movies, and that’s where he’d learned English.

When he dropped me off at the hospital, I looked at the fare on the meter, and I was glad that the trip had been worth his while.

I dropped the unused morphine and the crash bag at the nurse’s station and walked back to the hotel. I hoped for a glimpse of Northern Lights in the moonless sky, but the clouds hid the stars.

 

The diversion of patients because of forest fires

July 12, 2017

The forest, it seems, is on fire.

And the wait can sure make me tire

When our referral facility

Has maxed capability

And my patients have problems most dire.

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, traveled 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 went back to traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

As I write this, 183 wildfires rampage through the wilds of British Columbia. The smell of wood smoke permeates the air and a haze hangs over the nearby mountains.

We have been lucky during this last week of fires, with 3 days of solid, soaking rain. But with complex topography comes complex weather patterns, and nearby valleys have had no precipitation at all.

Yesterday I had call. I took care of people with problems in their skins, bones, throats, lungs, hearts, eyes, abdomens, fingers, toes, brains, ears, and genitals.  Two came in close together, with problems exceeding our facility’s capability.  I ordered blood work; I like to sound prepared when I speak to a doc in a referral center.  Then I waited.

And waited. When I got results back, I called the hospital in Prince George to speak to a couple of consultants and to formulate a plan, then I had the central ambulance dispatching service called.

Theoretically, the dispatch centralization makes sense; practically, however, it means a terrible delay in getting patients into the ambulance.

I had hoped to send both patients in the same vehicle to Prince George, but in the course of making arrangements I found out that the number of injuries coming in out of the forest fire had overwhelmed the schedule for sophisticated diagnostic tools, and couldn’t I please send the second patient to Dawson Creek?

It meant a longer delay for the second patient, but I agreed, and called the ER there with a bizarre, creepy history perfect for the opening of a horror movie.

Of course, in the hours between the arrival of those two patients and their departure, other patients came in for treatment.

At six I walked to the hotel to eat supper with Bethany. I had been continuously occupied for the previous 10 hours.  I wolfed my food, napped briefly, and walked back to the ER.

I started in on documentation, typing directly into the Electronic Medical Record. I continued between the patients who kept trickling in.  I ran into a surprising number of patients with back pain who adamantly spoke against narcotics (and I agreed with them).

I finished at ten, and returned to the hotel. I had attended 21 patients.  The emotional fatigue of waiting to transport those two critical patients far exceeded the physical tiredness.

And then I had no calls for the rest of the night.

Dislocated thumbs and warmth in the ER

June 24, 2017

To the ER the injuries come,

So I just took hold of the thumb

Yes, dislocated

But a technique underrated

Includes no drugs to make the hand numb

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, traveled 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 went back to traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

Over the years I’ve learned at least 8 different ways to put a dislocated shoulder back into place (medicalese: reduce the subluxation).   My favorite remains the one I learned in the parking lot of the hospital on my last day of residency.  I met one of the emergency docs coming in as I was going out for the last time.  He told me he’d learned the technique that involved no drugs, bandages, tape, buckets of sand, or force, and he showed it to me.  I use it to this day.

It failed only once, when in another clinic in another city a very muscular young man suffered a dislocated shoulder in the course of an electrical injury.

Last night, on call, for the first time in my career I faced a patient with a dislocated thumb (the patient gave permission to include a good deal more information than I have). I looked at the x-ray, I reviewed the anatomy, and put together a plan.  But I’d never done one before so I felt I should at least speak with someone with more experience before I tried it.  I put out a call to a consultant orthopedist and I waited.

And I waited.

One of my colleagues who had done several of the procedures, just back from an ambulance run came striding through. I told him the plan, and he gave me the nod.

I had the patient give me the thumbs up sign. I grasped the digit, and we started to chat.  As the patient relaxed, I took the weight of the hand, and, eventually, the arm.  After 5 minutes, supporting the forearm with my other hand, I let go.  Using patience and gravity, the thumb had slid back into place, with no drugs, no violence, and no clunk.

Just the way I like it.

_*_*_*

Injured people rarely come into the ER alone. Some of my patients have problems so difficult to look at that you wouldn’t see them in a horror movie.   The visual impact can jar friends and relatives into free displays of affection.  But during a recent night on call, I witnessed a kiss so astounding that the warmth flooded the ER and so memorable I had to comment on it.  I kept doing what I had to do, thinking all the while that so much love must make a difference in the healing process.

 

An ambulance ride to town and back

June 22, 2017

The patient gave us a scare
We did as much as we dare
A long ways we did ride
While it was raining outside
And I spotted a young dead black bear.

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, traveled 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 went back to traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed. I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18. Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

I ride in the back of the ambulance with the patient, a nurse, and an EMT.
I can’t talk about the patient or the patient’s problem, except to say its seriousness demanded the presence of a doctor and a nurse on the ambulance.
Sending both of us put a significant crimp on the healthcare manpower of the town, as well as leaving the municipality without ambulance coverage.
I have ridden in ambulances before, but during the last century. Common IV pumps remained a dream then, and I adjusted the IV drip rate using my wrist watch. Ambulances ran a lower profile at the time, and I couldn’t stand up while we rode; nor did I have a seat belt.
I got little precious sleep in the wind-up to this transfer, and we left in the rain while the beginnings of daylight brought color to the world.
Between the bumps in the road, the need for speed, and my position sitting sideways, after 40 minutes I begin to fear meditation failure ending in vomit, and I request a basin. The nurse, a woman of immense and invaluable experience, knows exactly where to reach for it.
I see nothing of the beautiful landscape as we proceed. Mostly I keep my eyes closed and my breathing deep and slow while I imagine worst-case scenarios, and how I would proceed if they happened.
Three times the nurse asks for permission to medicate the patient, and I consent. We keep our eyes on the instrument that measures blood oxygenation, blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rate.
A few miles out of the city the road acquires more lanes and divides, and the traffic picks up. The change in siren pattern tells me when we blast through intersections.
Ten minutes from the University hospital I look at the patient and the word “deterioration” springs to mind. But when we wheel into the brightly-lit, well-staffed, fully-equipped Emergency Room I know that we’ve done our job.
Just before we depart, one of the EMTs gets a call to transport a patient from the city back to their outlying hospital. In the time it takes to ready the next patient, we decide to go to breakfast, and the choice is easy: Tim Horton’s.
“Timmy’s,” as the Canadians call it, with higher quality than McDonald’s, not quite as fancy as Perkins, has outlets across Canada. I’d think they’d want to invade the US.
We drive a few blocks in traffic denser than anything I’ve seen for weeks. We park in a position of dubious legality, knowing ambulances never get parking tickets. The four of us stand in line, a little too polite to walk up to order. But at the end we walk out with our food, past a rapidly growing line. I carry a cookie and a yogurt parfait, hoping the way back will go smoother.
We pick up the new patient, the transport does not justify lights and sirens. I get to ride in the front.
On the way back I learn about the pulp industry, how ambulance services get billed, how EMT shifts get arranged, and some of the history of the town. I comment that although I see signs cautioning wildlife corridor I don’t see dead animals on the side of the road.
The EMT explains that Animal Control removes the carcasses quickly, so that local predators don’t hang out on the pavement and cause more problems.
And, just like that, we pass a road-kill bear.

Trying to figure out what “call” means

June 21, 2017

When my weekend came to an end

A patient off we did send

With findings so rare

It gave us a scare

And help we needed to mend. 

 

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, traveled 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 went back to traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

 

People can use the same word and mean different things, different words to mean the same thing, or even the same word in different contexts to mean different things.

Doctors use the term “call” when talking about coverage after hours and on weekends, but what does that word “call” really mean?

In Utgqiavik, the town formerly known as Barrow, it never meant anything other than 12 hours. I have been places where holiday call meant ten times that.  Depending on the location, weekend call might start on Friday or Saturday morning.  Or it could include staffing a Saturday clinic.  Sometimes it meant ER coverage only.  For a couple of decades I had to field calls from nursing homes, patients, ERs and hospital inpatient units as well as obstetrical duties.  For one former employer, if I drew the duty, I could count on sprinting between hospitals to admit patients till midnight, and a minimum of one phone call every 45 minutes requiring critical decision-making.

In New Zealand, when I worked for a North Island outfit, “call” meant staying overnight in the clinic.

On one particularly memorable assignment, it meant nothing other than having my name on a calendar slot. I had protested the marginal cell coverage at my dwelling.  Administration told me not to worry, in the event of a disaster the Sheriff knew where he could find me.

I write this while on weekend call. Sunday morning dawned very early and very clear.

During my 23 years in private practice, the docs wouldn’t talk about how the weekend went until afterwards. The same superstitious factors leading to that custom led to the many Emergency Rooms that banned the “Q word” (quiet).

What does weekend call mean here? Starts at 8:00AM Friday, ends at 8:00AM Monday, followed by a day off.

Now post call, I can say I cared for 3 people who, for one reason or another, didn’t have a chart in the local electronic Medical Record. I never cared for more than 12 people in one 24 hour period.  Several times, on the verge of leaving for the apartment, I asked people on the way in if they had come for emergency services.

At the end, a patient arrived with an extremely rare problem, so serious I called a colleague for help, and ended up riding in the ambulance to the medical center.

How did those samples find me?

May 11, 2017

The samples can help people quit
Without the nicotine fit
Tobacco detox
In a little brown box
Came free, and it made quite a hit.

 

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, traveled 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 went back to adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system I can get along with. Assignments in Nome, Alaska, rural Iowa, and suburban Pennsylvania stretched into fall 2015. Since last winter I’ve worked in Alaska and western Nebraska, and taken time to deal with my wife’s (benign) brain tumor. After a moose hunt in Canada, and short jobs in western Iowa and Alaska, I am working in Clarinda, Iowa. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

 

About ten days ago I found a box on my desk, sturdy cardboard, about 6 inches on a side. It held Chantix samples from Glaxo, Smith, Kline.
I hadn’t asked for the samples, I’d signed no papers for them, and I have no idea how GSK knew where I am. After all, I’ve only been here since February.
And they were the right samples to treat exactly one patient: a starter pack, because abruptly starting full dose Chantix risks major side effects, and two months follow-up therapy. Chantix turns out to work better in real life than it did in the lab; it works more consistently than anything besides quitting cold turkey.
The first patient of the day came in for other things (and gave me permission to write what I’ve written). But just like I do for everyone else, I asked if he smoked.
And, indeed he does.
I used to lecture people on the evils of smoking. By now, though, everyone already knows all the bad things about tobacco. Lecturing only brings antagonism into the relationship; “educating” the patient can thinly mask judging the patient.
These days I use a script from Motivational Interviewing, a technique that capitalizes on ambivalence. I hold my two forefingers a foot apart, and I ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means you’re not ready to quit, and 10 means you’re ready right now, how ready are you to quit?” If they say 1 or 10, I stop. For any other number, I ask, “Why not 2?” Mostly the smokers don’t get the question, and will tell me the bad things about tobacco. I interrupt them, explain that they weren’t ready for the question, and ask them the 3 best things about tobacco. When the patient understands what I’m asking, they mostly talk about stress relief, anxiety, and habit. A few talk about taste. One said “Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” After they tell me their favorite things about tobacco, I give them a blank stare for 3 seconds, then change the subject. The idea of Motivational Interviewing is to get the patient to think.
But this patient gave me an enthusiastic 10. I don’t get many of those, just like I don’t get many 1s. And he’d done well with Chantix in the past. In fact, he wanted me to give him a prescription for Chantix. “I’ll do better than that,” I said, “I will give you the Chantix.” And 90 second later I reappeared with the samples.
He already knew how to use them, and he already knew about side effects.
I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to use the samples. Tobacco makes any other medical problem worse.
I enjoy helping people, but certain parts of my work bring me disproportionate pleasure. A low B12, a high TSH, or curing someone by stopping their statin makes my day.
This one came close.

Reflections on medical frauds

May 8, 2017

The system is inherently flawed

They want me to sign and to nod

They have no excuse

It’s all billing abuse

And I’ll say to their face, “You’re a fraud.”

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, traveled 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 went back to adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system I can get along with. Assignments in Nome, Alaska, rural Iowa, and suburban Pennsylvania stretched into fall 2015. Since last winter I’ve worked in Alaska and western Nebraska, and taken time to deal with my wife’s (benign) brain tumor. After a moose hunt in Canada, and short jobs in western Iowa and Alaska, I am working in Clarinda, Iowa. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

Sunday I visited a web site that promised to cure my tinnitus. It had all the marks of snake-oil fraud: heavy reliance on testimonials, repeated themes that the establishment didn’t want the product to succeed, recounting hard-to-believe medical horror stories for those that relied on established medical practice, and at the end the assertion that the narrator didn’t want to make money, he only wanted to do good for the world but mainstreamers would soon make him take down his website because of jealousy over his success.  Those tools exist because they work, and they nearly worked on me.  I wanted to believe.  But I knew if the narrator really just wanted to help people, he would have made the audio download available for nothing, and relied on contributions to keep the website up.

Towards the end of the video the phone rang. I listened to the robot,  pressed one, and told the live operator, “Your prerecorded announcement said I got the call because I’d responded to a TV back brace commercial.  Is that right?”

“Yeah.”

“How can that be? I don’t have a television.”

The line went dead.

This morning when I dove into my IN box  I found 4 faxes from a physical therapy operation in a nearby town, wanting me to sign off on very general orders for patients that I didn’t know and certainly hadn’t examined. I called the number at the bottom of the sheet, and spoke with a secretary who explained that the firm had a direct access program.  I tried to explain, in turn, that I could not in good conscience sign off on a patient with whom I had had no contact.  But as Mark Twain observed, it is difficult to get people to understand if their jobs depend on them not understanding.  I turned the papers over to our clinic manager.

Yet I also got a similar order sheet for medical supplies, and I checked with the staff; the doc whose place I’m holding indeed orders those supplies yearly, and I signed.

Our country has an enormous amount of medical fraud; vendors interested more in profit than patients buy a lot of late-night TV commercial time, and some people call in to get scooters and other durable medical goods. Over the years I had a lot of requests to sign off on knee, back, elbow and shoulder braces, none were needed.

Yet a few vendors offer diabetic supplies at greatly reduced cost. So I can’t just shred all the requests.  I have to read each one.  After all, the fraudsters only copy successful business models.

 

I take call and end up a patient.

April 23, 2017

At the end, it wasn’t a stroke

It was gone when I awoke

The symptoms were brief

Avoiding much grief

And I got to tell a crude joke.

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, traveled 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 went back to adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system I can get along with. Assignments in Nome, Alaska, rural Iowa, and suburban Pennsylvania stretched into fall 2015. Since last winter I’ve worked in Alaska and western Nebraska, and taken time to deal with my wife’s (benign) brain tumor. After a moose hunt in Canada, and short jobs in western Iowa and Alaska, I am working in Clarinda, Iowa. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

 

Tuesday evening while on call, I got up to play Scrabble and I couldn’t make my right leg work. It didn’t feel heavy, numb or weak; it felt too light so that any effort to move it got exaggerated.   I sat down to do a neurologic exam on myself.  I found nothing other than my right leg ataxia.  I called Bethany from the next room, and told her the situation.  She helped me dress, and drove me to the ER.

The ARNP covering the ER did the same neuro exam I did, which wasn’t impressive until I demonstrated my gait.

She did all the right tests. The first EKG showed an old heart attack, which disappeared with proper lead placement.

She also found a heart murmur.  It hadn’t been present 5 years ago, but the PA at the VA found it a couple of months ago, and I called her attention to it.

My blood work had no surprises. She offered me the choice of staying in Clarinda or going into Council Bluffs, and I chose to go.  In terms of game theory, if something happened in the middle of the night, I wanted to be close enough for timely intervention.

In the process I had to make arrangements for someone else to take call.

I napped off and on for the ambulance ride, which almost got derailed twice by herds of deer. I bypassed the ER at Jennie Edmundson Hospital.  At 2:00 AM I had gotten settled, my IV had given me a couple of quarts, the second set of labs had come back and I’d had a good visit with the hospitalist ARNP.  Just before being tucked in, I offered the nurses a choice between a clean joke, a clean joke with a bad word, or a dirty joke.  They chose the last option, and I gave them the funniest crude joke in my large arsenal.

I don’t get to tell that joke as a physician, no matter how funny it is. But, as a patient, I can get away with it.  The punch line drew gales of laughter.

By then, motor control of my right leg was functioning at about 90%.

I slept for a couple of hours and had breakfast.

The neurologist arrived, and with economy of motion, did a thorough exam. He advised an aspirin a day and starting a low dose migraine medication.

The morning parade of tests started. By the time Bethany arrived I had done the basic neurologic exam six times and the symptoms had resolved except for the funny feeling inside my head.

I had an ultrasound of my neck, a consultation with the dietician (whom I amazed with my six pieces of fruit a day and my two ounces of salmon at breakfast), a consultation with the Occupational Therapist, and then the Piece de Resistance, the MRI. In between, I napped because I’d slept so lousy.

The hospital feeds its patients on the room service system; I ordered a lunch of soup, sandwich, and fruit, and within a half hour a young Guatemalan arrived with the food. We had a brief conversation in Spanish, I introduced my wife.

And we waited. The hospitalist came back, and went over the results.  Ultrasound demonstrated clean carotids (neck arteries).   The MRI didn’t show anything conclusive.  He also recommended an aspirin a day.

We waited for echocardiogram results. The hospital public address system announced a severe thunderstorm warning, and then a tornado watch in effect till 10PM.  The internet and the TV weather agreed that severe weather approached from the west.  At 4:45PM we decided to leave before the storm arrived, without the echocardiogram results.  We didn’t want to spend the night in the hospital, nor did we want to risk hitting deer on the way back to Clarinda.

Bethany drove. We enjoyed dramatic skies and listened to a Continuing Medical Education CD.  We ate at Clarinda’s premiere restaurant, J Bruner’s, ordering off the appetizer menu.

I returned to work the next day, the episode completely resolved, making it a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also call a reversible ischemic neurologic event (RIND).  Except I noticed my handwriting was much clearer.

I don’t think anyone else noticed.