The Boobs Have It

Display in museum in New York City
Do you know how many breasts I have touched? 

Thousands of them.

It is staggering when I reflect upon it. 

So many breasts. So very many. All shapes and colors and sizes. Hairy. Not hairy. Moles and rashes and skin tags galore. Droopy. Perky. Somewhere in between.

During breast exams I have for years and years referred to the exam as the “boob check.” Whenever I made reference to my breasts of anyone else’s I nearly always called them boobs or boobies. 

To be honest, I thought it was cute.

Touching another woman’s breasts makes me uncomfortable, maybe even a bit embarrassed. I feel the same when someone else is looking at or touching mine in a nonsexual, clinical sort of way. So I made fun of breasts and joked about the situation. It took some of the sting out of the situation to act goofy.

One of the many beautiful things about blogging  is that from time to time someone says something that makes me reexamine a part of my life and causes me to make some changes. 

Mark at Exile on Pain Street made a comment on one of my blog posts a while back (ok, maybe it was WAY back in July of 2015) that has stuck with me:

“I hate that word. Boobs…. Boobs sounds comical and crude. It lacks decorum. They’re beautiful! Not something to make fun of.”

This. From a MAN. 

At first, I blew it off. What does he know about women’s bodies anyway? What gives him the right to tell me what is disrespectful about the term boobs. I can can dang well call them anything I want, can’t I? I own a pair after all.

But it ate at me. 

And I felt kind of guilty.

I would take that comment out from time to time and chew on it. The word boob is, after all, another way to refer to someone who is a fool. An idiot. My breasts are way better than that, aren’t they? So are every other woman’s breasts for that matter. They give pleasure. They give life. Right or wrong, so much of who we are as women is wrapped up in these exocrine glands. I would never tell a man to show me his “twig and berries” if I were doing a genital exam. Why do I persist in denigrating the female anatomy during office visits? 

Excellent question.

Yesterday I was telling a woman to change into my lovely blue paper gown so we could do a breast exam when it struck me…

When was the last time I called them boobs?

It had been a long, long time, I realized.

And that made me smile…

With a Prayer

St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City

I have prayed out loud with a few patients over the years at their request. I will admit, however, that I am personally very uncomfortable with public displays of my faith. I am not sure my prayers carry the weight and power that some people believe that they should. I feel somewhat hypocritical for that reason, as if I am selling a faulty product. 

That being said, I do pray privately for patients on a regular basis:

Please, God, protect my patients from my mistakes. Help your love for them to show through me…

When I pray for others, do I believe I am swaying God in any way? Not really. Prayer is not so much about others as it is about me, a sort of mindfulness. I need a reminder that I am a fallible human being and that I must demonstrate compassion to those who are vulnerable. I struggle with that from time to time, just like the next person. 

I could write a book on the various things people do to bargain with their God when they are desperate and in that respect I am just like them. I have my own rituals and my superstitions, my own pleading bargains that I have made. Some may mock me for that. 

Faith, though, keeps me sane. 

And that is good.

Reflective

Central Park duck pond

“He had an awful lot to say about you.” 

I steeled myself for what was to come. I had no idea how physicians in the group I left perceived me now, almost eight years later.

Eight years? Had it really been that long?

She laughed heartily.

I relaxed.

Her dentist, apparently good friends with the other provider, referred her there for a work up for bone loss he had picked up on dental X-rays. I stumbled upon the visit in her medical record in the EHR when she requested a refill on one of her medications. Aside from the fact that it was a work up I could have easily done and referring her to another primary care provider when she had one already was itself a bit unprofessional, I did not know if she would make her way back to me or stick with him. Patients always loved him. 

So I waited.

“I told him you were my favorite doctor ever. He said you had to be right about everything but he missed working with you.”

Right about everything? Really?

Admittedly there are certain things I do not compromise on. You routinely lose my patient’s vaginal specimens and I will insist that you come and spread your legs for a speculum exam as punishment. Ok, not really that drastic but I take that sort of thing very seriously. Pelvic exams are not just physically uncomfortable, they are emotionally uncomfortable for patients and saying, “just have them come back for a repeat” is not an adequate response when I am dealing with a lost specimen for the fifth time in as many months. I will raise holy hell if I have to. But I am rambling….

It is interesting sometimes to see what people remember or think about me. Sometimes it hurts, though, and most of the time I would just rather not know. Is needing to being right about everything what I wanted to leave him with? 

No. 

Not really.

But it could have been worse. At the end of my tenure at that office there was all sorts of drama, he had been involved in some of that, and I was glad to leave it all behind when I left.

A few weeks later I ran into that same former partner at a restaurant. I was there with my kids to get something to eat after a long, tough Friday. They were beat. So was I. 

He saw me and walked over say to say hello. We chatted for a few minutes about how his kids were all grown up now.

“I used to work with your mom,” he said to my son and daughter. “Do you know what she did?” 

My kids swung their tired eyes over to him and focused on his face, warily. He was a stranger. They were used to strangers addressing their mom in public but were not used to being addressed directly themselves. I again braced myself, not knowing what he would say. 

“She told a bunch of kids at an office picnic that she would pay them $5 if any of them hit me with a raw egg. All of a sudden this whole herd of kids was running at me with eggs in their hands.” My son snickered. “So do you know what I did?” They shook their heads, leaning in close to get the scoop. “I told them I would pay $10 if any of them got her with an egg. They chased her all over that park.”

“Did they get her?” My son asked eagerly.

“Sure did.”

I interjected here. “With ONE egg, alright? Just one.” I held one single finger up for emphasis.

Now? I am a legend as far as my kids are concerned. My son in particular loves pranks. He loves knowing mom does, too. I am grateful to my former partner for giving us that.

Time passes, doesn’t it?

Time heals wounds by bending memories. It tempers recollections and feelings until sometimes bygones truly can be bygones. 

I haven’t played a good prank in years, though. That is drawback to the passage of time. I am getting so awfully dang old!

Ruined

Ruins of hospital on Ellis Island

He came with her to all of her doctor’s appointments, more than an observer he was involved, concerned, present. He came off as her protector. I thought we were on the same team.

The alcohol was getting worse, though. So was her liver failure.

“Who buys all of the beer she drinks?”

“I do,” she spoke up. “And he does.” 

I glanced over at him.

“Sometimes she makes me.”

“Makes you how exactly?”

“She can get really ugly.” He looked away sheepishly, unable to meet my eye.

“You mean to tell me that all of this time that she has been going to her liver specialist appointments, all of this time that we have been talking about how she needs a complete and immediate cessation of alcohol, all of this time that you have sat in that chair and nodded your head in agreement, you have actually been providing her with the substance that is killing her?”

I wanted to scream at him. What the hell are you doing? Sabotaging her? Murdering her? WTH?

But I don’t know what their life together has been like. Is he the equivalent to a battered woman in an abusive relationship? 

I just don’t know.

So I suggest counseling, giving them contact information for treatment centers, and usher them out the door wondering all the while if I have somehow failed them both.

Dread 

Morgue at Ellis Island hospital

I dread going back to work after being off for a vacation, even if it was only for a few days. 

I know, I know. I’m not alone, am I? 

The thing is, I never know what my in basket is going to look like. After a regular weekend I can walk in to find 50-70 items on my virtual EHR (electronic health record) desktop. After a week of vacation it may be 150 or more. 

Please God, let it be manageable!!!!

When one of my partners is off, it is a full on life/death struggle to keep my head above water and I am certain they have experienced the same frantic craziness trying to keep up with my stuff while I’m out. 

Patients get crabby when their physician is gone and there will invariably be several fires to put out. Did the clinic roof leak again? Did my office manager actually reschedule the patients that I saw were on my schedule last Monday? Did that woman’s MRI get done? What did it show? 

It was not enough that I worried about everything all week. Oh, no. Now I have to face up to it in the morning.

Gah.

I won’t be sleeping well tonight.

*****************************************

The photo above is what is left of the morgue inside the ruins of the hospital on Ellis Island. It was a teaching hospital so autopsies were done in this theater. On the left is where the bodies where stored. I took the hard hat tour and got some really great images. I wish I could have gotten to see some of the upper floors, like where the ORs were. Maybe someday…. 

Treat Yo’ Self!

Drawing of a human body by a preschooler
Death was approaching over my left shoulder. I could sense it. And yet I was surprisingly calm. It felt surreal. The bit of chicken lodged itself in my esophagus and now I could not breathe. I was going to die in this very hotel room. Tonight. I knew it with a certainty that rivaled the certainty of taxes. It was my time.

Choked to death on Thai chicken curry.

People would judge, wouldn’t they?

Except that I really could breathe. It just felt like I couldn’t. I was not going to die after all unless it was from embarrassment. I imagined the humiliation of that ER trip.

I could not swallow that damn piece of meat down no matter how hard I tried. I could not cough, hork, or vomit it up. I made the most awful gagging, retching noises. I wondered what people passing in the hallway were thinking. 

Fortunately, I was not alone. I rasped the word, “Heimlich!” and motioned at my throat. He complied and in short order the offending bit of Thai chicken curry sailed across the room, bouncing off of a panel of neutral colored drapery, leaving a mark for the next guests to wonder about. 

Sorry about that, housekeeping staff….

From then on, I chewed and chewed and chewed everything, figuring that this happened only because I was a glutton, stuffing my face too fast. I was ashamed. I told no one. 

There were several close calls after.

Fast forward a few months.

Standing at the counter typing clinic notes I felt the wave of nausea hit me again. It had been building for weeks, getting worse every day. Always in the mid morning. But why? Why was this nausea happening? It was not pregnancy, not unless God felt the immaculate conception needed a do-over and since I was no Virgin Mary I figured that was highly doubtful. I draped myself over the counter, holding my head in my hands and closed my eyes until the wave passed. Wow, did my epigastric feel…. odd. What was that sensation? Pain?

Whoah. 

And just like that, it all dawned on me. 

Acid reflux. A terrible case of GERD. Esophageal structure. Dysphagia. Time to crack out that acid blocker and go see a GI specialist. 

So whenever people say, “You’re so lucky. You can just call stuff in for yourself. You don’t need a doctor!” I roll my eyes. I have no business treating myself or anyone else that I love because you know what? I’m crap at it. When it comes to myself and my family I am just too close to the subject matter to see straight. My family doesn’t even appreciate how dangerous that can be. Instead they get all offended when I refuse to weigh in or offer to take over their medical care.

The physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient.” William Osler

Truth.

Remember that next time you hear about a doctor treating themself or their spouse or their kids except in the direst of circumstances….

Fulfilling

“When was the last time you saw a doctor?”

“Three years ago.” 

I looked at his blood pressure reading and cringed.

“How long have you been out of your blood pressure medication, then?”

“Out? I haven’t been out. My old doctor just kept refilling it.”

Our clinic recently instituted a protocol for allowing staff to authorize patient medication refills. It is a system wide thing, across our healthcare organization, so it is being utilized in every practice. Supposedly it is to free physicians up for more important things, like seeing patients, generating revenue. Isn’t that nice.

I hate it, though. 

I hate the whole idea.

Sure, I have trust issues. That is the first problem: Trusting that staff is always doing the right thing is hard for me in this case because these are drugs. Drugs can kill people if used wrong. Doing my own refills gives me oversight. Then, there is the self importance issue. If a medical assistant can refill meds, then what does my degree really mean? Less then it did before. And most importantly, if I don’t have time to handle simple refills for my patients, then am I too busy? 

I enjoy keeping tabs on my patients, doing their refills. Maybe I am crazy? I really do enjoy it. Taking refills away from me makes me feel less useful, less fulfilled. But I am going to try it. I’ll give it a go for a bit and see…. I don’t want to be labeled an old fogey. Yet. 

Doctor’s Day

Cute butterfly on a blossom

Doctor’s Day was yesterday. Did you know that?

Caught me completely by surprise.

It used to be a big thing ten years ago. The hospital hung banners up and handed out logo emblazoned umbrellas, bags, pens, and whatnot. My staff signed a big card the office manager picked up and a new potted plant would now sit on my desk. Drug reps dropped off cards and swag. There would be emails celebrating doctors sent from the suits. Well not really from the suits. From their secretaries. The point was, though, you just could not escape what day it was. 

To be honest, all of the hoopla back then made me feel very uncomfortable. 

This is not why I am doing this. I am not here for the accolades or the potted plants and I resent the insinuation that these things matter to me. Please leave me alone.

Each year it is less and less of a big deal. This year? Silence. Not a single frickin word from anyone. In fact, my only clue was a post from someone else on WordPress. 

Yesterday I told a woman she has metastatic ovarian cancer. I told a man that he now has diabetes and we developed a treatment plan together. I did a newborn visit on a precious two week old baby. I cried with a woman over her divorce and saw a man whose mother just died from the same disease he now has. Then I watched the last few minutes of my son’s karate class and picked up cupcakes for my daughter’s class party. 

This is life. My life. Every day. 

And you know what? Despite any bitching and complaining that I do here, I really, really love my job. It is such an honor and a privilege to care for people, to be there when they need help. THAT is what keeps us going… keeps me going.

In truth, I’d do this job for free. Just don’t tell the suits that I said that. 😉

Cash Flow

Fountain at the Alamo in San Antonio

“You tell that doctor to write me a prescription for something affordable!”

*Click*

My medical assistant glanced up at me with a shocked look on her face. There was no need to repeat the conversation. I had heard every word.

“That does not make any kind of sense. It is a generic medication. It should only cost $40. Max. Call his pharmacy and find out what that med is going to cost him there.”

Later in the day I read the computer message that said it was going to cost $340 for a one month supply. Hell. I wouldn’t even pay that. 

I typed out a quick message and routed it back, asking why it was going to cost that much.

It is the brand name. If you want them to fill the generic you have to write for the generic. 

Except that I HAD written for the generic. I always write for generic. 

I sent back a stongly worded message pointing this out and telling them to fill the frickin’ generic. 

This was followed by a string of other patients with similar complaints all from the same pharmacy chain. Insurance companies refusing to cover prescriptions that patients had been getting without issue because the pharmacy chain was filling brand name instead of the generic option. It makes them more money. I would have never known this was occurring if the insurance companies had not denied coverage. 

From a drug coverage standpoint we love to hate on insurance companies but pharmaceutical company and pharmacy shenanigans are one of the reasons healthcare costs in the US are skyrocketing out of control. 

So I tell patients to be aware of what they and their insurance companies are paying for. If there are significant changes, please ask questions. Shop around to other pharmacies. The variability of cost from one pharmacy chain to the other is astonishing. AND, talk to your doctor. The only way I find out about these kinds of things is from patient complaints.

Just maybe don’t yell at my staff… 

Behind Your Back

Detail of building in San Antonio

So. 

One of the biggest time drains in my life is sorting through paperwork from insurance companies telling me that Mr. or Ms. So-and so is not filling their medication and therefore “likely noncompliant”. 

My question to you good people is this:

Do you want your doctor calling you to say your insurance company sent us this message and you need to take your meds, or else? Or do you prefer that we pretend that never came across our desk?