“Uh, sir, you’re supposed to inhale, not chew.”
Having enjoyed the tender mercies of military medicine as a child and the early days of HMOs as a young professional, I should be long past being surprised by the behavior of anyone working in what we jokingly refer to as health “care” in this country.
Still, even I can be taken aback from time to time. This morning, for example.
Our neighborhood doctor’s office was absorbed by a corporate entity a while back, and since has undergone the usual transformation, acquiring a “Brazil”-style voice-mail system, a shitload of attitude and a mania for following orders, as long as they don’t come from a patient.
For the purposes of our tale you should know that I’m a lifelong asthmatic, diagnosed around age 8 in Texas. And I like to hit the old albuterol inhaler a time or two before exercise, the way you might squirt a bit of ether into an old carburetor before firing up your ’54 Chevy. Last year, while getting a bum knee examined, I mentioned that I’d had trouble getting an albuterol prescription refilled and the doc grumbled, “We have to test for that, and I don’t have time today.”
Test for that? I’m only been asthmatic since 1962. The Air Force sawbones who diagnosed me is presently pushing up the daisies that are making me wheeze. “No, time, no time,” he said, scurrying off like a roach on a griddle.
Next time I saw him, concerning a tenacious case of Snotlocker Surprise, he had the time. “Wow, you really do have asthma,” he remarked, and wrote the ’script. No shit, Doctor Fuckin’ Welby. I examine the package upon pickup: One inhaler, “no refills, dr. auth. required.” Fuck me. Well, what the hell, I only use it before all the bike riding I’m not doing anyway.
Last week I noticed I was about two weeks away from running out of the stuff in one of the worst allergy seasons in recent memory and rang up the doc’s office to get a refill. Ha, ha, etc. The robot says doc doesn’t do that any more — patients are to phone the pharmacy’s robot, which will in turn ring up the doc’s robot, which will tip off the doc, who will OK the refill, whereupon the doc’s robot will give a thumb’s up to the pharmacy’s robot, which will call you when your prescription is ready for pickup.
None of this ever happens, of course, and my follow-up phone calls to both doc and pharmacy prove unproductive, like a bad cough.
So I pop round to the doc’s office, and that’s when it all goes pear-shaped.
The receptionist wears the expression of a intake officer at the county lockup. “Name! First name! Date of birth! When were you last here! Who did you see!” So right off we’re already enjoying each other’s company. I’m expecting the back room and the bullet-nosed flashlight at any moment.
And it got worse. The doc I saw was apparently not the one who wrote the ’script. That person works in another office. The robot spoke to her. She did not reply. Nevertheless, you were telephoned and informed that you must be seen before any drugs will be issued to you. You must see, you vill see Ze Doktor!
Um, no, Brunhilde. I couldn’t pick this ’script-writing phantom of whom you speak out of a lineup at gunpoint. I saw the dude, not her. Nobody ever called me or my wife — not him, her, or anyone else, including your robot. And no, I don’t need to be “seen,” what I need is some albuterol.
About this time someone in scrubs inserts her long and snoopy proboscis, like Brunhilde blessedly bereft of any glimmer of knowledge about the situation, and confirms that ja, ja, I must, I vill see Ze Doktor! Ve are only following orders! At no point, mind you, has either of these “health-care providers” apologized for inconveniencing a customer. I say “customer” rather than “patient,” because neither had either inquired about my actual health.
“Can you breathe? Sir, are you having an asthma attack? Your face seems to be swelling ominously and turning a fiery red. …”
And at that point I may have inquired whether my getting a simple prescription refill without physician intervention might free up Scrubby’s time for treating an actual sick person in dire need of her mad skillz, and she may have suggested that I seek my medical care elsewhere henceforth, and I may have praised her for providing the first sound medical advice I’d ever received from her organization, and proclaimed that I intended to take it straight away, while adding that under new ownership what once was a friendly neighborhood doctor’s office had become as penetrable as North Korea with the sort of customer service one expects from a pimply teenage malcontent stocking shelves at a K mart scheduled for closure and demolition.
Take a deep breath, you say? I got 17 more of ’em left in this inhaler.