As diverse as Christmas cookies and pills, doctors come in all shapes, sizes, and specialties. Dr. P. is my chocolate chip cookie, my stand-by-your-woman constant family doctor for almost 20 years. He owns his practice (almost unheard of today), has a common-sense approach, doles out prescription drugs only when essential (downside there), and teaches me about my health because he knows I like to be involved. Unassuming and humble, Dr. P. tells me that the most important part of his job is knowing what he does not know. I worked with both fledgling and veteran physicians over the past ten years and can attest that he is rare. The few that entertain the concept that their knowledge of the universe is incomplete are better doctors.
The fifth decade has graced me with a need for specialized medicine doled out by special doctors who are experts in their fields. I have admiration and respect for doctors who sacrifice a dozen years or more to learn their craft and sympathize with the bureaucracy which hinders their ability to give quality patient care, but I do wish I could simply go to Dr. P. for everything. It is difficult to have an exchange or establish rapport with a specialist because he or she does not typically know what they do not know, such as how I feel about risk/benefit analysis. They do not know, nor believe, that I have never had an illness that presented classically, which would make their diagnosis something I could have done myself with Web MD’s assistance. Is it a side-effect of getting older to have less faith in doctors now than in my younger years? Perhaps it is simply a realization that they really are practicing medicine, and on me. In the age of cost-effective health care, residing outside of the statistical majority is to a patient’s disadvantage. Popularity contests have never gone well for me and in proper order I seem to have been taking a medication for the past three years that is effective for only 15% of patients. So the new specialist would like me to use a better medication, a chemotherapy drug that will give me the side effects you think of when you hear “chemotherapy”. He even gave me a nifty decision-making brochure chocked full of fun statistics and possible life-threatening side effects that increase in likelihood over time. He involved me in the decision and told me that patients who feel like they have some control over their treatment usually have better outcomes. I hope he keeps that positive attitude when I deliver my decision in a few weeks. I need this guy on my side.
In the meantime I’ll tell Dr. P. about it tomorrow when I see him to discuss hormones and this ever-widening spot on my back. He spends about a half hour with each patient even though he only allows twenty minutes in the schedule. I have waited for over an hour too many times to count, but it doesn’t irritate me because I always get my turn. Tomorrow I have his second appointment of the day. So exciting!