The Lady Vanishes: that was no lady, that was my M.D.

Initially Dr. Koldpac didn’t work for the Pearshaped Medical Group. (How can you tell I’ve changed the names to protect the guilty?) She was in private practice down near the lake, a hard to access place for me. I had to go west to get east, etc. I didn’t care. Finding her, someone who would actually take a new patient, meant that I could quit driving from my westend home to the far east suburb to which my previous doctor had moved. We’ll call him Dr. Vim.

Dr. Vim had a few drawbacks apart from the hour-long trip across the city. He had settled in a high density area to minister to the new immigrants there, intending to staff the office with a number of other physicians, but it hadn’t worked well. While there should have been 5 doctors, several of them were always away for one reason or another and he was sometimes left holding the fort against the onslaught of patients by himself. I always made an appointment and never waited less than 90 minutes, once a full 2 hours. Walk-ins were there for the interim- breaking down at the 4 hour mark, going out to buy sub sandwiches next door, crying into their cellphones. We amused ourselves watching the CP24 news channel with a split screen, on mute of course. We read the sign that told us that absolutely no narcotics would be prescribed on the first visit and that if we pushed around the reception counter the police would be called.

Still we were a docile lot and learned about each other’s culture. Women in full chador, only their eyes peeking through, with all their children -I hope it was all their children- in tow were of course shepherded by a man, sometimes clearly an elder son. Called by a female doctor, all of them would go into the examination room together. How easy pelvic exams must have been! I spent hours letting go of my judgement, but apparently, I have some way to go.

I had clung to Dr. Vim because initially I had gone to his walk-in clinic near my home to see about my eye which was totally bloodshot. Not a problem, he assured me, but had I considered a colonoscopy. Excuse me? Well,  my age you see and my digestive problems. He had wormed this out of me. Don’t you know he was right on! I underwent the procedure. I discovered I had an unwelcome visitor in the ascending bowel, round about the appendix. I had surgery, etc. I was so grateful I presented Dr. Vim with a Swiss Army knife and swore lasting fealty to him.

My loyalty was sorely tested after he moved across town, but I persevered. Now I don’t run snivelling to a doctor with the sniffles or stomach aches or muscle spasms. I was one of the first in my town to get H1N1 flu having picked it up in Vegas and I went to bed for the better part of 3 weeks and drank fluids. I was way too sick to drive across town and there was nothing Dr. Vim could do about it anyway. Ordinarily, I went for yearly checkups and in between to get the only prescription drug that I took. Hint: I always took one of those little pills before I went to Dr. Vim’s office.

Dr. Vim’s office also had every conceivable test available and he used these facilities liberally. I had, for example, bone scans done there and guess what? It was determined that I had osteoporosis. Having done some research, I realized that WHO (the World Health Organization) would not have classified my results that way. At most WHO would say that I had osteopenia. I have never, despite opportunity, broken a bone. Dr. Vim recommended medication. I said no thanks. I had read alarming stories that indicated taking it for many years actually weakened bones and produced spontaneous fractures of large bones, for example, when the subway train stopped too quickly. I do tai chi every day I told him. Not a weight bearing exercise, he countered. “That”, I replied, “is not the current thinking.” He should just try lifting my considerable weight off the floor in a one-legged kick. I began to question his expertise: he had trained in what we might call, an off-shore medical school.

So after much searching, I found Dr. Koldpak. She was a snappy dresser. Her style was European and her skirts were short. But she wasn’t happy. There was something about Dr. Zitt, whose office she shared, that she found insupportable. “I am going to leave,” she told me, sotto voce. “Get a copy of your file when you go out and give it to me. I’ll take you with me. You’re going to love where I’m going. Everything is electronic. You can make appointments online…” Thus I was introduced Pearshaped Medical Group.

At first it was fine. It was a little irritating not to be able to actually phone her office. All calls had to be made to a central number. And I found it hard to remember always to go online and check wait times, because even if I had an appointment, I had to wait for the walk-in before me to be seen. Once in a while when I myself walked in without going online, I would discover the office was closed. I would find myself standing and cursing at the locked metal gate. No vitamin B12 shot today!

But guess what? In between her visits to Paris et al, Dr. Koldpak hinted that she wasn’t really happy at Pearshaped. She had to see the walk-ins in the order they came in and that kept the appointments waiting and they, in turn, got angry. Still there were never more than 4 young mothers with kids waiting. It’s true than instead of CP24, we got to watch and listen to Pearshaped ads for hepatitis shots and pap smears. But I was sure, absolutely sure, that my doctor who had brought me with her from Dr. Zitt’s, would never abandon me.

Reader, she did.

I walked in to get my monthly shot and that old gate was locked right up. I turned to the pharmacist. “Gone,” he said. Gone where? Didn’t know. Gone forever? He shrugged his shoulders. A few weeks later even the sign was gone and the pharmacist, who must be seeing a downturn in business, gave me his card, told me to call. Maybe she would come back privately.

Usually doctors who abandon you have to give you other doctors’ names who can take you on, but in this case Pearshaped had me covered: there were other clinics, although getting to most of them involved crossing time zones, but there was one office farther west that wasn’t too far. I would try that. I just needed the damn shot after all.

Ah, here we are again. Another third world waiting room – a grandmother with a teenaged daughter who has the flu and another daughter who whales in with a toddler who may have a cough. They begin urgent negotiations to jump the queue. No seats left. Camp on the floor and wipe the child’s hands every two seconds because he has just touched said floor. Mother has to go buy a new package of wipes. In a loud general observation, grandma accuses us all of giving her”grandbaby” germs, although none of us is coughing or blowing or touching the floor. But miracle of miracles, I get Dr. Caragansus, who is beyond belief -well-informed and smart, explaining why, e.g., I personally, can’t take quinine to stop muscle spasms.

Oh please, be my doctor!

No such luck. Dr Caragansus is a sort of roving gunslinger. He doesn’t take patients. He just rides into town, sees walk-ins and moseys on back out again.

I decide to call Pearshaped to account. I email my complaint. In reply, I get Dr. Koldpak’s new number. For one whole night and part of a day, I feel buoyant, even happy, but I am due for a come-down.

I phone the office, full of naive hope. I ask for an appointment. “Are you a patient of Dr. Koldpak.” Certainly, just at her previous office. Can’t be done. The receptionist starts talking a mile a minute. She is hard to follow, accent-wise, but it seems to me, she is saying that I cannot qualify because I am a Pearshaped patient. !!!!! I ask her please to listen to me. I don’t want to be part of that organization anymore. I try to be clear and concise. I claim Dr. Koldpak as my physician. Now I listen very carefully. Where do I live? It turns out that I am way outside their catchment area. Catchment area? Never heard of such a thing. Been thus for 20 years. Where have you been? Well, clearly, out of the catchment.  I cannot trust myself to speak. Very softly, I press “end” and sit staring at the phone. As I sit there, it becomes clear that I wouldn’t take that faithless hussy back if she begged me.

Good news, my sister tells me later. A new doctor is taking patients up in the Junction. But he’s a man. Oh, that’s the least of my worries.

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