On a recent early morning, I geared up and headed out to a doctor's appointment. Not my regular doctor but someone she referred me to as an "expert." I've had a nagging backache for years and on occasion it flares up. A terrible fall (not motorcycle related) a couple of years ago probably aggravates the condition. I figured it was time to check it out. Thus, the referral made by my internist. Before visiting the "expert," my doctor, whom I've had for about 20 years, tells me that this doctor has a bad reputation for his harsh bedside manners, "old school" ideas, and a brisk demeanor. She warns me that he will not spend time to talk to me but she stresses that he is an excellent orthopedic surgeon.
I've now had four visits with the "expert." Here's my take on him: If my back were separating from my body with visibly deteriorating flesh and fiber, I wouldn't go to this doctor if he were the only one on earth who possessed a cure! I would just have to say my farewells to family and friends and die!
At the first appointment, it was also a gorgeous day and I decided to ride my bike then too. I arrived in plenty of time to relax and remove all my gear for what I thought was going to be a thorough physical. I waited. And I waited. In that waiting period, I learned things I didn't like. I could hear him talking to patients from down the hall. He raised his voice a lot and I for one interpret this as yelling. His tone was dictatorial. He seemed to be multi-tasking up the wahzoo, almost as if he was holding simultaneous patient exams. I later learned that often he kept the door open during exams. At times, the place seemed chaotic. The waiting room seemed dull and signs of "No food, drink or cellphones" adorned the walls. Hunting, fishing, women, parenting, and celebrity magazines were amply spread around the room. In addition, the scent of a czarist regime filled the air.
I signed in and handed over the the images of my lower back. I was given the necessary papers to complete. I refused to fill out those invasive homeland security forms, which is within my rights. Promptly, I was told that "all" patients "must" fill them out. I pointed out the place on the forms that clearly state I have a right not to sign, which gives them the authority to release medical info requested about you--and not just to the feds. Now, I'm not naive, I know that when push comes to shove, anything and everything is fair game and will, if necessary, be released to the government. But I'm not going to make it easy for them.
The doctor hears this exchange and butts in and wants to know what is the problem. His help tells on me and he looks at me and wants to know what is the matter. I tell him, "No problem, I choose not to sign the medical release form." Mind you this does not preclude the doctor from releasing medical information to my doctor or to anyone else I designate. He says, "You have to sign the form for treatment." I nicely correct him and point out that the form is voluntary as stated in the instructions and that I cannot be denied treatment for not signing. Thus begins my introduction to the "expert." Let me add, that I am a polite person. I will, however stand up for my rights.
I wait in the examining room. His male nurse takes my history. He asks about the physical activities I now and in the past have engaged in. I tell him I lift weights but nothing too heavy; I do Tai chi; I power walk, inline skate, and am a former serious long distance runner; I bicycle ride when I can. The nurse adds, "and you ride a motorcycle." Yes, I forgot that.
The "expert" enters. The first words out of his mouth..."Did anyone ever tell you that riding a motorcycle is bad for your back?" He motions to my helmet. His tone is not friendly. I say, "No." He continues that the back problem I'm complaining about probably stems for all the jarring from riding a MC. I decide against telling him about all the physicians I know who ride. He reads my history. Then he remarks, "For a woman your age (I'm fifty-something) you're doing too much." I am dumbfounded. Not that I need his approval, but isn't it a good thing to stay in shape or at least strive for fitness?
He tells me that while I look young, the body knows how old I am. And suddenly, I'm feeling the need to bolt out of his mad house. He's surprised at my age and he states that he realizes baby boomers push themselves to the limit. When he finishes I say, "It's interesting you mention the motorcycle being bad for one's back, I had back problems for about five or more years, this is only my second season of riding. I explain how riding has not made the problem any better or worse. In fact, I tell him I think my back has improved because I now do more strengthening exercises because of long distance riding. He discounts my personal observations. I explain that I don't ride during the winter and my back soreness still plagues me. I tell him the back problem preceded riding by years only he isn't listening to me. He cuts me off several times, gets defensive and claims that he is accustomed to people like me not wanting to hear the truth. To him, I seem like a stubborn woman who doesn't act her age--whatever that means. I guess I'm supposed to shut up, dry up, and die!
His examination is cursory. That's fine as I want to leave anyway. He ends our first meeting with his "expert" opinion and orders more tests. He tells me, "You present yourself to me complaining about a back pain but you ride a motorcycle. You do Tae Kwon do... (I cut him off and say "I do tai chi." One hundred year old Chinese folks do tai chi to stay limber and mentally fit. I would need to remind him often at subsequent appointments that the two are vastly different, but he is deaf to the details). You run (I correct that too). You do all this martial arts stuff...(what the heck is he talking about?). For a woman your age... (now I'm getting really ticked, not only is he at least 25 years older than me, I am about to strike him) the back pain is probably due to this heavy activity level you follow," blah, blah, blah. I leave feeling I'd been in the presence of educated swine. I was hoping for an objective diagnosis, to know that I don't have some horrible back cancer or some freaky, rare muscular-skeletal disorder. Instead, I get an undisguised chauvinist who gives his "expert" opinion without waiting for the test results.
Before leaving, I had another exchange with his desk help when I asked for the film back. Before the woman could retrieve it, the doctor yelled that he had to keep the film (fair enough). I asked if I could get it at the end of my last visit. He interrupted and said, "No treatment without the film." That wasn't my question, but I decided to drop it before I used my helmet as a deadly weapon.
As I was leaving, he yells down the hall at me in a friendly tone, "Hey, are you going to give me a ride on your motorcycle?" Stunned, I turn and in my most nice-nasty voice say, "NO!" And just before I close the door, I add, "You don't have a helmet!" From that first visit, I learn that he's of a generation where doctors were considered God by many people and clearly he mourns the change. He allows no meaningful dialogue. His office operates with a harem, a bunch of females (one male) who seem to levitate in his presence, thus reinforcing his God-complex.
My next three appointments were challenging and gives me one more good reason for not owning a handgun. I ride to each appointment and it always gives him a reason for commenting on the evils of the physical demands of motorcycling. Now, there may be some truth to his claims but he didn't show me any. I guess I was supposed to treat his word as gospel.
At each visit, he ordered more tests. I spent much of our time trying to ask questions and get him to listen to me to no avail. He made comments each time about motorcycling, proving his ignorance. Once he picked up my book I had been reading while waiting for him. He eyed the title and did a huffy-grunt and said, "Any good?" In hindsight, I wished I had been reading something with a more provocative title, like an issue of SCUM (The Society for Cutting up Men)--which was a radical anti-male group of women in the 70s--just to get his goat.
At my most recent--and last appointment with this "expert", I left for the appointment in morning temps that were in the high 40s but the weather promised a welcomed warm up by afternoon. I donned my Kilimanjaro jacket with the zip in fleece lining. I had also remembered to put in my helmet chin curtain, which prevents the air from blowing around the front neck area of the helmet. At highway speeds in excess of 60 mph, I could feel the cold and wind against my arms and slightly against my chest; but, I remained toasty the whole ride. It was refreshing being out in that crisp morning air. I took the long way and arrived at his office by 9am. The forty-plus miles put me in a giddy mood.
I knew this office visit would be my last. With or without his "diagnosis. After waiting too long in the waiting room, I was moved to the examining room, with the door open. I sat listening to him examine an talk to other patients, knowing that when he came to examine me, they would be listening. He looked at my chart and bounced his head up and down. He says, "You're doing too much and I've ruled out any bone, structural, nerve and arthritic conditions. So you've got to make a decision. In my professional view, from a legal standpoint, I've got to say, I don't see anything wrong from the tests I've requested. Now, does that mean you making this up? I don't think so. But you're doing a lot of things." He stressed that he would be happy to do more tests on my neck, which appears, at least to me, related to the back. He thinks they are "entirely" unrelated, however. Perhaps. But he was now "willing" to turn to the neck (something he was unwilling to even consider before) and wants me to schedule another appointment. "Thanks, but no thanks." I think, "You've seen the last of me, buddy."
When the staff tries to schedule another appointment. I told them I'll call them. And, when I request all my medical records, it leads to a discussion about reproduction cost, which I tell them, "Fine, just have the records ready at the agreed time and I will pay for the cost." They want to belabor their fees and go on and on. I continue to say, "Fine. I'll pay for it--do you want me to pay for it now?" They finally back off.
After leaving, I went to my Internist's office. Her nurse, after hearing a little about my experience, confirmed that the "expert" is a "hand full" and she shared with me some humorous and maddening tales of how she has had "words" with him. Later my internist said she has heard these things before about him from other patients. Then she put me in a better mood by telling me this joke: What the difference between God and a Surgeon? Drum roll, please:
Answer: God doesn't think he's a Surgeon.