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Inside looking out: Riding the medical merry-go-round

Published August 10. 2019 06:27AM


So here’s how it goes. A pinched nerve in my back radiates excruciating pain down my left leg. I can’t stand for long and I can’t walk more than a few steps before I have to sit down to relieve what can best be described as a bad toothache getting hit every second by a hammer.

Two emergency room visits sent me home with an MRI diagnosis, four needle shots and six bottles of prescription pills. An attempt to enjoy my vacation in Delaware failed after three chiropractic visits. Nothing helped take the edge off the pain. The chiropractor, after reviewing the MRI, advised me to see a neurosurgeon.

I made the appointment call. The first opening is Nov. 8. I called for a different doctor and they set me up with a physician assistant. At this point, I don’t care if he’s an auto mechanic and sticks a flathead screwdriver through my leg to kill the nerve pain.

I asked the PA for a cortisone shot. He’s not allowed to authorize that on this day. I first need a consultation with the Pain Management Department. That is scheduled for Aug. 12. Then the shot will have to be scheduled, most likely for weeks later. My neurosurgeon appointment has now been set for Oct. 9.

So I have to bear this pain from June 27 until at least September. I’m told that by that time my body might heal itself.

The medical world is controlled by insurance companies that challenge every patient procedure. My first doctor told me he was on the phone for 45 minutes convincing an agent to approve my MRI.

This waiting to get relief makes me think I’d better plan ahead from now on to get a doctor’s appointment when it’s needed. Here’s how making a successful appointment would go.

ME: I’d like to make an appointment to see the doctor.

Office worker: Our first available is Nov. 9.

ME: Oh that’s too soon. You have anything in January?

OW: Too soon? No one has ever said that. What is it that you want to see the doctor about?

ME: Oh, I’m fine now, but I might very well have some problem by January.

OW: (laughs) I’m sorry. We only make appointments for those who have medical issues.

ME: I might have an issue by then. Besides, if I have a problem in January and call then, you’ll tell me the next available will be in March sometime.

OW: So, you’re planning on having a problem?

ME: I plan ahead for everything. Got long-term care insurance for a nursing home. Picked out my grave plot, too, and paid for that.

OW: (laughs) Well, good for you, but making an appointment in January when you might not need to see the doctor doesn’t make sense.

ME: I have had severe pain and had to wait months to see a doctor. Like I said, I don’t want to have pain and then wait that long.

OW: Well. OK then. How’s Jan. 15?

ME: That’s fine.

OW: Will you please call and cancel if you don’t need the appointment?

ME: Yes, I will, but then I’ll make another one for June just in case.

Now I realize that the system is overwhelmed and there are wonderful doctors doing the very best they can when considering the number of patients they see each week.

An appointment for a specialized doctor is months after you call because they generally have only two days of office visits and are in surgery the other three. I wonder how many surgeries a doctor performs in a week and if that creates a possibility that he might make a mistake due to exhaustion. I know a cardiologist who says that he and many of his colleagues live on 5-Hour Energy drinks so they can remain alert and focused during long operations.

Staying healthy is an obvious goal, but there is an irony to my life and death. My pension and my Social Security would like to have me die so that would end my benefits. My life insurance company, however, wants me to stay alive, that is, until my term policy expires. Then they get to keep thousands of dollars in paid premiums and I get nothing in return.

Of course, health and long-term insurance companies would want me to drop dead so I don’t cost them a lot of money for long hospital stays.

Pharmaceutical companies would like to see me suffer in pain for a long time and need their prescriptions.

So here’s how I can make everyone happy that has a stake in my well-being. Get very sick now. Need multiple prescriptions, but stay out of doctor and hospital care so insurance companies don’t have to pay for treatment. Die suddenly right after my term life insurance expires so my beneficiaries don’t get a dime while the company gets to keep my premium money.

If all this does happen, big pharma, pension, Social Security and my life insurance should send thank you notes to my survivors.

Meanwhile, I’d better call my dentist and make an appointment for next spring in case this tooth in the back of my mouth needs a root canal.

Rich Strack can be reached at


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