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A Glimpse

A Glimpse

   I had an opportunity to experience the healthcare system last week as a patient. Unknown to most of my patients, I have high blood pressure. It started to get out-of-control when our buildings were being constructed. There were so many missed opportunities to get the job done correctly and on time, mostly brought on by endless miscommunications from the architect to the job site supervisor. Constant unrelenting stress will elevate one's blood pressure.  

 Recently, I've developed an unusual sensation in my body, primarily in the right chest just lateral to the sternum. Dr. Addington placed two stents in my heart about six years ago after I had a set of different symptoms in my left chest. This current sensation is nothing like the previous, and exercise and exertion does not make it worse. Rest does not make it better. Nitroglycerine does not relieve it. So I believe it's something related to my musculoskeletal system or lower respiratory tract.   I have had a number of vials of blood drawn to check the same clinical markers I would in any patient I would evaluate. Most of them were negative for heart related disease. My ECG was normal. So being a bit frustrated about my symptoms, I called Dr. Addington to discuss my problem.

   As always, he was very helpful. He asked several insightful questions and as a result, I increased my blood pressure medication and he scheduled a stress echocardiogram on my day off. I was told to not take my blood pressure medication the day of the test. I complied with his request. 

  On the day of the test, I arrived at Stern Cardiovascular mid morning. I went inside, turned to the left and found the diagnostic center. As I opened the door to the waiting room, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of humans sitting and waiting for testing. It was a sea of humanity of all shapes, colors, ages and diseases. I made my way to the reception desk and was greeted kindly by a young attractive woman sitting at a computer screen. She asked my name. As I replied, she searched their system, found my appointment and politely asked me to wait a minute or two to print out the paper work. I sat in the back of the room and took out my artist sketch book and started to write what I felt sitting in an ocean of illness. It felt odd.

   After writing a few short sentences, my name was called. I returned to the reception desk, completed the paper work and returned to my seat. Within a minute or two, I was summoned to perform my stress echo. Over that short period of time, people moved in and out of the diagnostic center waiting room like the waves coming and going on an ocean shore. As I walked to the area in which the test would be performed, I noticed a sign posted, If you have waited more than thirty minutes and have not been called, please see the receptionist. The technician seemed a bit hurried, made very little eye contact and seemed to just want to get on with it.   

We went into the testing laboratory. "Take off your shirt. Have you been here before?" I complied with her request, "Nope." She proceeded to tell me the process, shaved my chest hairs and attached some electrodes. I asked if she had any children. She began to lighten up. She was proud of her boys who were football players. Football, the magic it brings to those of us who enjoy the game. Her entire tone changed at that point. She was much more friendly and gentle.  

 I was told to stand up with the blood pressure cuff on and she hit the button to check my pressure. The monitor display flashed 196/121 mmhg. She looked at me, "Do you feel okay?" I replied with a smile, "Yep. No problems here. Let's get going." She was a little alarmed, "Your blood pressure is very high. I have to call Dr. Addington's nurse to get approval to do the test." I was a bit surprised at the measurement too. "Well, I was told not to take my medicine. So I didn't." She left the room with me standing upright, leads attached to my chest with no shirt on. Within less than one minute she returned. "We can't do the test. You'll have to come back. Take your medicine the morning of the test. Okay?" What does one say when one complies with the instructions related to the test and his physiology is in accord with his disease? I thought that she might invoke plan B: Give me a medication to reduce my blood pressure, let me wait fifteen or twenty minutes, then perform the test. Plan B did not exist.  

 "Put your shirt on. Let's go out to the desk and reschedule" I smiled, "Sure." As we entered the waiting area, it looked as if the patient population we left behind had doubled. I realized there was no time for a plan B. Patients were coming out of the wood works. The receptionist looked at her computer. "How about next Thursday at 3:30 pm?" I probably looked like Buckwheat on the Little Rascals show, my eyes almost popping out of my head, "Nope. How about something in the morning so my blood pressure medication will keep my pressure down?" She looked at the technician, mumbled a few words, the technician mumbled back, "How about 11:30 am?" I smiled, "Yep. I'll be here." The technician looked at me smiling, "Go home and take your medications. Next week we'll just push you hard to get your heartbeat up." "Okay. See ya then." I turned and walked away. She greeted another patient and went back to the testing area. 

   After I left the building and gotten in my truck, I drove to the office, had my blood pressure checked sitting and standing. It was high. I took my medications and within two hours, my blood pressure had normalized. That night, I went to the gym, lifted weights for an hour and went home.  

 I had no idea the medical industry had become so disturbed. I thought the process would be patient centered. I got a taste of the industrial healthcare machine at work. There were many things that seemed odd. My blood pressure was so high that most medical personnel would try to do something to bring it down. They did not do anything to treat my condition. Perhaps they knew I was a doctor and they thought I would take care of it myself, even though they called me Mr. Merigian, which made me feel really old. And it seemed like my personal schedule did not matter in the least. I thought about my office and how we schedule patients. I plan on having an office meeting soon just to discuss that issue. 

   The through put of that diagnostic center was outrageously large. I could feel the stress when I walked into the waiting room. Chairs were tattered and torn, the carpet was dark, dingy and worn through in some places. The logo of the Stern Group was above the reception desk, a human heart with a stake through it and a single snake wound around the staff. It was cast in a plastic resin or polymer. The staff is the symbol of a physician. It is the Staff of Asclepius, the great Greek God of Healing. Perhaps the replica heart symbolized the sacrificial organ of the Mayan God Ritual to bring prosperity to the masses. There was no warmth, compassion or institutional attempt to calm those who were waiting for whatever test. 

   Somehow I think Asclepius wasn't consulted about using his staff in the Stern Brand. I got a glimpse of what it means to be a patient and I have to go back next week. I'll be ready.   Doc   

Posted by Amanda Sanders at 10:36 AM
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