Friday, March 11, 2005

An Oncologist Goes to the Doctor

I believe I can state with complete honesty that I have never seen a barber that looked like he needed a haircut. This makes sense to me. A barber in need has but to plop himself in one of his fellow clipper's chairs, peruse a copy of Esquire for a few minutes and voila - his topmost part once again glimmers like the curls of Michaelango's David; then it is back to work chopping away at teenage brush or delicately snipping the last surviving stalks of the septuagenarian.

Contrast this with physicians, many of whom look like they should be wheeled into the nearest emergency room. Who knew that legions of doctors live in denial of their own various medical problems? I have seen trenchermen waddle around nurse's stations like bears navigating an icy river. Others slump over charts, grimacing as they scrawl out orders rivaling those from a World War II Enigma machine. Doctors love to avoid becoming patients. I believe the medical term for this is neglect. After looking at one particularly gruesome mug - sallow, waxy complexion, dark bags under the eyes - I asked myself, "Why doesn't this guy get a checkup, for crying out loud?"

Unfortunately I was peering into my bathroom mirror at the time. All I had to do was grin and they could have used me as a poster for socialized medicine.

Rather than call for make-up I decided to take this advice. I made an appointment with my doctor and within the month, dressed in jeans and a tee shirt I strolled into the waiting room of his large office. As I introduced myself to the receptionist she asked for my insurance card and said, "Mr. Hildreth, please take a seat. We'll call you when we're ready." I found an empty chair next to a large man in camouflage overalls and an orange baseball cap. We looked like Laurel and Hardy on a deer hunt. Like most of the crowd in the room we nervously eyed the door to the exam rooms. A nurse soon appeared and bellowed out a name. An elderly woman sitting next to her jumped, ripping her copy of Time in half.

Did I hear correctly? She called me mister - Mr. Hildreth. Why, I'm a layperson again!

After a week of seeing patients and answering millions of questions I relished the thought of going through this visit anonymously. I smiled slyly and wondered how long I could go without anyone knowing my true occupation; after all, we medicos have big egos. Maybe I wouldn't be able to carry out the charade. I decided to give it a try - to fake being a normal person and see if the employees treated me differently than if I had brought a bullhorn and announced "WATCH OUT - I AM A DOCTOR!" Of course when my physician walked in we spoke as peers, but otherwise I kept my mouth shut. I simply hoped for a quick and easy office visit - not unlike the children's book that inspired my lifelong devotion to the healing profession. In fact, I chronicled a few observations from this typical office check-up - merely for general interest, not necessarily to be remembered as the complaints of a whiner:

1. The quickest way to get one's name called is to start reading magazine articles with titles like "Keeping Your Love Life Hotsy-Totsy", or "Medical Oncologists - Why They Deserve Our Everlasting Praise".

2. Exam room posters displaying illustrations of male anatomy or people choking do not exactly create a cozy atmosphere.

3. Male patients who must undress should remember to wear white boxer shorts, not the red ones with the blue whales on them (nolo contendere).

4. Any staff member who avoids eye contact does not have to worry about what to wear at the Employee of the Year banquet.

5. Is it just me, or do medical office personnel use the same tone of voice as my 5th grade teacher - the one who could drop a goose in mid-flight just by calling the roll?

6. This isn't a recording studio - the walls are thin enough in most offices to permit one to hear how Mrs. Jones' hemorrhoids are behaving this month. (I must remember not to speak with the same voice I use to call the hogs back from the hollow).

7. Nurse practitioners, interns, medical students and other supporting cast members should identify themselves before sticking their hands in a patient's armpits or other delicate intertriginous areas. It serves to reassure us that the whole episode isn't going to end up on some reality TV show.

8. Patients who read of a new medicine have a better chance of getting helpful advice from the doctor if they bring the information with them, rather than say "You know, doc, it's that thing they gave to all the baboons in China." This doesn't narrow it down much.

9. I miss the good old days when doctors all got free health care. Now we stand in line to shell out our 25 bucks to the cashier like we were at the two-dollar window at the track.

10. It's okay for doctors to pry into patient's lives. Tell us our blood pressure is too high, that we drink too much, that we need to stop smoking and exercise more - we can take it. We want to confess everything! As a wise physician once said, "Catharsis is the first step toward continence". (Funny how these guys come up with such alliterative apothegms).

The saddest part about my visit to the doctor was the ending, for as I swung through the revolving doors and stepped onto the tarmac-like parking lot my beeper went off, just as it has done for the past twenty years. My masquerade was over. I had crossed the river Lethe but had failed to drink from it, thus ensuring that my former life as Mr. Hildreth would rest in memory like a beloved costume from a party long ago, never to be worn again.


At 9:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also read a book as a child that I think put me on the road to medicine. Great entry, you made my friend and me laugh.


At 1:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

another enjoyable read--but you leave me wondering. how did it end? was it the flu? liver failure? pregnancy???

~Anonymous G

At 7:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another great story. You are one of the best writers on the web. Obviously you must also rank as one of the most compassionate doc's on earth

-secret admirer

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Mehera said...

So funny--I laughed out loud all the way through this! And so true--if there is a more stressful place to go than a doctor's office, I don't know what it is.

At 1:18 PM, Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Admit it, life is more interesting for the doctor when the patient wears blue undies with red whales on them.

May all your tests come back optimum.

At 3:25 PM, Blogger poopie said...

Well, Mr/Dr know what they say about healthcare providers being the worst patients......Glad you had fun with it!

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Emily said...

What I'm really wondering is where I can get my hands on this Hotsy-Totsy article.

At 1:18 PM, Blogger DrTony said...

I loved your post. The only criticism is grammatical. I was disappointed to see you misuse the term "hollow." As you know, this means something not solid. The correct term for calling hogs is "holler" which is the verb for the calling action and also the noun for the valley from where the pigs are called.

Keep on Hollerin' Doc!

At 11:20 PM, Blogger Dr. Craig Hildreth said...

To Dr. Tony:

Listen, I lived in Tennessee for two years and moonlighted in McMinnville. Don't talk to me about "holler" - when I say "hollow" I mean "hollow"! There is a section of St. Louis named Hog Hollow, which is the urbane sophisticated way we cognoscenti delineate the word "holler" - look up "hollow" in the dictionary...

At 11:26 PM, Blogger Lindsay Beyerstein said...

People in whale boxer shorts are entitled to special consideration. It's practically a constitutional right.

At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

a great post. i haven't seen a doctor in about 5 years... maybe it's time

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