And the Doctor Never Called

A few weeks ago I was having trouble with a cough that wouldn’t go away. I let it carry on a while thinking it would just go away but when I became increasingly fatigued and continued to feel really lousy for a few days I relented and made an appointment to see a doctor. I have been bad about seeing one doctor consistently in recent years. I typically go to the same practice for all of my health needs but I have not attached myself to one primary care physician, mostly because I simply haven’t found one that I like that much or that seems to take enough interest in my long term care for me to feel any desire to “sign up” per se. My recent experience only reinforces that, and well, I guess I need to do some doctor shopping now.

As a person living with a few chronic health issues it would be wise to get connected to one doctor that I felt comfortable with and could trust. But that is a completely different topic, I’m off track.

I made an appointment at the health practice I usually visit because of that annoying cough and my general malaise. I’m leaving the practice nameless for now because I don’t want to draw attention to them as much as I want to draw attention for a gaping hole I see in healthcare. I was able to get in to see the doctor pretty quickly, I went to the doctor’s office on a Thursday morning. I don’t normally recall things like that but after my experience, I remember it well. 

After a brief exam with a pretty stoic physician, he said he would like to have some x-rays taken of my lungs, just to make sure there wasn’t any pneumonia or anything like that going on. He thought it was just bronchitis but wanted to make sure. This seemed pretty reasonable to me and the practice has those capabilities in-house, so it was easy peasy to walk around the corner and have the chest films done. After the standard angles were shot I went back to my room and waited. A few minutes later the x-ray tech came and got me and said that the doctor wanted to get another film of a particular angle that she didn’t take before. While standing in the radiology room and turning in a different way than I ever have before for an x-ray, and with my arm raised awkwardly above my head, I became aware that perhaps they were looking for “something”, you know, something ominous. 

After that, I sat in the exam room with a little bit of anxiety welling up inside of me. It was a strange sensation really. I tweeted that I was being an “impatient patient” at the doctor’s office and thought to myself, it sure would be strange if this were one of those moments before all things in life change, all perspectives, all gifts becoming more bright, all blessings more vivid…you know, things like that.

When the doctor returned, the first thing he asked me was if I had ever been shot in my chest. I found this pretty strange, to say the least. He said there was an odd shaped abnormality in my left upper lobe that looked to be fairly calcified, almost like scar tissue or a piece of twisted metal. Since I have not ever experienced such an injury, he wanted to have the radiologist look at the films and determine if a CT scan would be needed. He showed me the films and I saw something strange in my lung, something I now have a permanent (perhaps semi-permanent) picture of in my brain because I obsessed over it for many days. 

After waiting over a weekend (which was brutal for obvious reasons) and a couple phone calls on my part to the doctor’s office, I found out that the radiologist recommended a CT scan with contrast. Then, the process of getting approval from my insurance began, which took a few more days. By the end of the week, I had researched sub-centimeter lung nodules extensively online. I found that by and large, they are non-malignant and they are very commonly discovered by accident, much like in my experience. In fact, it’s becoming sort of a “problem” in the medical community because previously these never would have come to anyone’s attention and the use of CT scans and additional methods of testing is sometimes thought to be too extensive and unnecessary. But, like me, patients want to know if these abnormalities are malignant. If they could be or if they might become malignant, it’s kind of important.

So a week and one day later post the initial exam, I had my orders with approval for a CT scan with contrast. I called a highly respected imaging center in town and scheduled my appointment. They were able to get me in the next day, which was a great relief to me. One reason I picked this imaging center was that I knew they had a quick turnaround for providing results to patients and you can pick up your radiology report and images, usually 24 hours after your test. The test itself was fairly uneventful. I got a raging headache from the contrast and the warm sensation that flows through your body when the contrast goes in was nothing short of bizarre, but aside from that all went smooth. Finally, Monday came and my husband picked up the report and my digital record of the films. 

Conclusion: calcified lung nodule. Most likely benign.

Additional note: minimal dependent atelectasis. (That means a small part of my lung was not inflating properly.)

The tech who gave my husband the results told him that usually minimal dependent atelectasis is treated with some medication but we need not be worried about it, it could be treated and follow up should take place with my doctor.

I had my results and I could relax. After 10 days of worry, I could rest and know that chances are really, really good that this lung nodule will never turn into anything. After my research, I also noted in my mind, that my doctor may want to follow up with exams every 6 months for a while to make sure the nodule doesn’t change or do anything funky.

With this information in hand, I waited. I waited for my doctor to call. I waited for the doctor’s office to call to discuss the results, to put my mind at ease. I waited for them to call to discuss the need for treatment for the atelectasis. But guess what? They never called. Never. Not a couple days later. Not a week later. Not even 3 weeks later.

I find this incredibly disturbing and mostly, negligent. I continued to wait because I felt better. I continued to wait because I was reassured by the radiology report that all is fine. I continued to wait because I really just wanted to see if they would ever call. That may or may not have been the best way to handle it and I’m still on the fence about calling that practice at all to let them know that I fell through their cracks. 

The thing is, I wonder how many other people are falling through the cracks, the gaping wide holes and canyons in our healthcare system. If it happened to me, well, I know it’s happening to a lot more people with more important and pressing needs, I’m sure of it. We’re more than a name on a clipboard or an account in a software program aren’t we? We are people with friends and family and co-workers and people who depend on us and need us and our doctors are supposed to be there to help us be as healthy as we can be. But sometimes, they just never call.

7 thoughts on “And the Doctor Never Called

  1. …I wish to address this from so many angles..i will make blog later about this very important issue….for now think about this… People are no longer referred to as “patients” on clinical paperwork.. it now reads “customer”… even in my restaurants I instruct on mind-set… “Guests” vs. “customer”… it changes every single thing…
    and another note… I am a therapist in natural healing arts(not “practice”) Happy to consult with you anytime… ~pantha

  2. I noticed in your account that YOU made the appointment with the radiologist to do the CT scan. You were proactive. All of us need to be proactive in our own health care. We have to push and push and push when we have that instinct that something is wrong. The doctors are too overwhelmed with the sheer numbers that come through their doors to be able to provide that extra follow up care. I find that even my oncologist, whom I love, doesn’t always have the time to follow up. I have her full attention when I am with her in the office and her staff helps me to make the appointments I need out of the office but she can’t check up and make sure I did what I was told. It’s my body, my health! I have to be the one to do what I need to do. So my point is, being proactive, including following up after a test is how we all need to be to ease our minds.

  3. I feel your pain, but have just come to totally expect it, I have numerous chronic conditions and a lot of really awesome doctors whom I love, but their office staff are another issue. I would NEVER EVER count on ANY doctor’s office to call me back – EVER about ANYTHING! Worst experience, a couple years ago I almost died from MAC bacteria in my lungs, never had any respiratory problems before, this is a long story, but the point is after numerous trips to the ER they said I needed to see a Pulmonary doctor, which of course I didn’t had, so I called the practice they recommended that had a GREAT reputation in the area, called a couple times, never got a person on leave a message and they would get back to me, I explained the situation and that I was literally laying on my floor gasping for air thinking it was the end numerous times a day and couldn’t walk from the bedroom to kitchen of a small house without this happening, and it took that office over 2 months to even call me back, and another month to get an appt. Ended up with a great doctor who saved my life but 3 years later I’m sorry to say their office staff has not gotten better and I just realize that if I need them to call me or anything done I better be VERY BOLD and outspoken and DEMAND that I get a call back by the end of the day, and if I’m lucky I might hear from them. Unfortunately that office is really bad, but overall this seems to be the way things go. I’m very glad that you are ok and doing better!

  4. As a physician I can say this: I am so sorry. Our job is to develop a relationship with our customer/owners. If we develop that, then we feel their pain, we know their anxiety – and we feel it. Too often we call them “patients” and de-humanized a bit. Too often things happen like this. So, I am sorry – it is the part of healthcare we are trying to change- and have with the Malcolm Baldridge award winning Nuka System of care at SouthCentral Foundation in Alaska.
    I would mention it to the doctor- I would mention that you had waited for him and you were disappointed, even though you knew the answer.
    Again, I am sorry
    –Terry Simpson MD FACS

  5. ^^^^
    WHOA a doctor responded
    and that is very cool.
    I’m sorry hon that you had to go through that. It’s inexcusable that you had to not only deal with the stress of something like that AND to have to worry about scheduling your own tests and waiting for results. It’s unfair and not your job.
    But you were proactive. Not a lot of people are like that. They just wait and let things happen which is so scary.
    I’m glad that it isn’t anything serious. My mom has what you have and we were all sick to our stomachs. In Canada she had to wait WEEKS for a CT scan, biopsy….it’s awful.
    Make the call and find a better doctor and office xoxo

    • Ack! I’m so sorry to hear your mom is going through this! Please try to keep me posted if you can. I can’t imagine having to wait weeks…the anxiety would be so intense. Much love and prayers and gratitude for you and your mama!

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