Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Waiting for Godot, Group Health's second cousin

As you may recall, I received the news of the probable cancer in my lung on Friday last.

At the conclusion of the visit, Dr. H, my ENT doc told me that I could expect a call from oncology on Monday or Tuesday to set up my biopsy appointment. But if I didn't receive a call from them by Wednesday, I should call Group Health.

This is a feature, not a bug in Group Health service. I have learned over my 26 years as a Group Health member that you cannot sit back and expect to receive service: no, you must be an aggressive, informed consumer, unafraid to get in peoples' faces to obtain the service you think you are entitled to.

So over the weekend, I stewed, wrote emails, said thank you a lot to well wishers from many facets of my life and tried not to think about it too much. Fat chance. Luckily there was a wedding Friday night and I had houseguests for the weekend for that ceremony, who kept me well entertained.

Come Monday at 8am I was on the phone, dialing my primary care physician, Dr. Mc, someone I have seen regularly in the past 15 years, and someone with whom I am on a first name basis. I explained my situation to Dr. Mc, something she was already familiar with as I had emailed her Thurs last week and asked if she could give me the CT results early. She demurred, saying that they weren't all in. Of course, now I knew that she really wanted to reserve the tough job for the ENT guy, the one with whom I was meeting in person--something I understood. No hard feelings there. But I did tell her that I wanted her to talk with oncology and get them to call me today, Monday, to set the biopsy appointment as soon as possible.

First I got a call from Dr. N, the pulmonologist, who said he had read the CT scans and that he thought 1) the primary tumor was in the lung not elsewhere in the body, and 2) there was an opening for the type of biopsy which I needed (a CT scan or an ultra sound guided needle biopsy to be placed in my back in the lower left lobe of the lung) on Friday, and if they did not give me that time to call him back. He released my two CT scans to my GH web page, so now I could read them online and see the narratives for myself. And he gave me the number for Radiology, which I called, immediately thereafter. The woman who answered the phone could not help me and sent me to another number where I was told to leave a message. Which I did.

An hour went by. I didn't actually register the passing of time for a bit as I had to drive to Olympia for a big work related meeting and was driving to meet my co counsel, who could drive us both there. Once I got in her car, though, my cell phone rang and it was P from radiology. She started by telling me that I could not have any Motrim, Aleve, aspirin, ibuprofen, fish oil or Vit E before the procedure. No explanation why. I said fine. Then she said, "We have a date open to do this on October 8th." At that point, I jumped in and said, "No. I was told there was an opening this Friday." P said, "Yes, but you have to not have taken any of those drugs for ten days before the biopsy." My thought, not articulated but lit up in red neon at the front of my cortex was "YOU HAVE TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME, LADY. TEN DAYS FROM TODAY IS NOT OCTOBER 8." What I instead said was, "That's fine, I will be in the clear by this Friday. Please give me the appointment." Which she then did. And then instructed me on the appropriate preparations for the procedure which will be this Friday at 6 am.

Not to be too didactic, but, this is not the first time that this has happened to me at Group Health. Unless I had spoken up for myself, I could have been waiting for 17 days for the biopsy of a tumor that in less than a month had destroyed my voice. Perhaps this is true for private medicine as well, but if so, it is not helpful in the least. I have heard that the oncology staff is very much different from other specialities in terms of their willingness to reach out and assist their patients. I hope that is true.

Again, nothing to do here but wait now for another three days. By then it will have been a week since my life shifted into a different reality.


Deborah said...

Be strong. My thoughts are with you. I'm a reader of NNC and came here through that. You will never be the same person you were before the diagnosis but some time in the future you will actually go a few days without thinking about all his. I know this from experience.

Deborah said...

that was supposed to be "without thinking of all this"