Chat @ Care-giving: Medical Mis-steps

It should have been simple. At Dad’s annual physical, he discussed the upcoming cataract surgery with his internist.  A few weeks later, we met with the cataract specialist who needed a medical release from the internist.  Since I needed to be in Temple in a few days for the first meeting with Aunt Edie’s hospice nurse, I stopped by the internist’s office immediately after the specialist’s appointment to drop off the needed form.  I wanted to be sure Dad was well-taken-care-of before I headed out-of-town.

The internist was in Canada for a funeral, but I was assured he’d return in a matter of days and the cataract surgery was still a few weeks away, so I felt like everything was taken care of.  I left a copy of the release form with the receptionist and she took copious notes during our conversation.  She took my phone number and promised I would hear from her.  I didn’t.

Since I was with Aunt Edie after the internist returned, Mom called his office to check on the status of the release form.  Of course, she couldn’t talk to any one and had to leave a message.  I know my mom’s messages.  She writes down everything she wants to say before she calls and leaves very carefully worded details.  She told them when Dad had last seen the doctor, when the form was delivered to the internist office, when the form needed to be at the specialist’s office  and requested to be called to confirm the form had been faxed.

She got a call, but it was from the appointment clerk.  Mom explained the situation to the clerk.  “Ma’am, I just set the appointments.  Lucky told me your husband needs to do some testing and then come in for the results.”  “Then I need to speak to Lucky.”  “He’s at lunch.  I’ll set the appointments for the tests and the office visit in case you do need them.  I’ll tell Lucky to call.”

Ah, Lucky!  Lucky is the internist’s nurse.  For years, it was Rhonda.  Rhonda was smart, efficient and polite.  Lucky is not.  Rhonda still works for the internist, but has been promoted to position where she no longer has direct contact with the patients.  Now the patients have Lucky.  Lucky didn’t call me when he got the release form in his in box.  (I saw the receptionist put it in there with her explanatory notes.)  Lucky didn’t return my mother’s call about the form.  He also didn’t call after Mom talked to the appointment clerk.  His name may be “Lucky”, but the internist’s patients certainly are not.

So, with fear and trepidation Mom set the appointment.  Why fear and trepidation?  Because experience has taught her Murphy’s Law delivers the worst case scenario more often than not.  I assumed the internist needed another test to reassure himself Dad was OK for surgery.  Mom assumed the internist set the appointment to explain to Dad why he wouldn’t be able to have the surgery.  Then, we’d lose the deposit we put down for the surgery and my dad’s eyesight would be hampered for the rest of his life.  She was also worried that the battery of tests were too close to the ones Dad had just had and we’d end up paying for them.  We were both wrong.

Caring for aging parent’s is a tightrope performance, especially when the parents are hovering on that cusp between semi-independence and the need for full-time assistance.  I always want to be there for them when they need me, but I also want them to feel “normal” for as long as they can.  Dad’s appointment was on a Thursday afternoon and that’s the day I usually spend with them, so I assumed I’d be going to the internist with them.

On that Thursday, I got to their house very early, because Mom had an early appointment with her internist for her six month check-up.  Her blood pressure was somewhat elevated and I explained her concern over Dad’s surgery to the doctor and updated him on my aunt’s situation.  Since Mom has some significant dental surgery on the horizon, her doctor decided she needed a stress test, which he would schedule.  After the check-up we picked up the dry cleaning, got her glasses adjusted, went to Wal-Mart and Kroger, picked up barbecue from Dickey’s for lunch and did several chores around the house.  Then Mom sent me home.  “You got here at the crack of dawn and have already spent most of the day with us.   You’ve gotten more done than I could have hoped for and you’ll be here for two days next week.  Go home!  The doctor is around the corner and I promise to valet park the car.”

Normally, I might have insisted on going, but I wasn’t feeling too good.  Sensing my hesitation, my mom turned up the heat.  “You have a life.  You spent the last week with Edith and will lose several days next week with Dad.  Take care of some of your own business.  Send out some query letters.”  Ouch!  I was behind on my self-imposed quota of query letters.  Then she pulled out the big guns.  “I don’t want Bill to get disgusted with how much time you have to spend with us old folks.”  I hugged my parents and headed home.

By the time I got home I knew something more than exhaustion was bothering me.  I immediately went to bed and slept for several hours.  Then the phone rang.  “Honey, I’m sorry if I’m interrupting you, but you’re not going to believe what happened.”  Dad was going to be able to have his surgery, but thanks to Lucky, Dad did take a completely unnecessary battery of test.  I put on my best soothing voice.  “I’m so sorry Mom, but all we’ve lost is a little time and money.  Be thankful we can afford it.”

Mom wasn’t through.  “We were in the waiting room for a long time.  Then Lucky took Dad back and told him to undress.  It was so late in the day that I thought they’d forgotten us and you know how cold George gets.”  When the  doctor walked in, he said, ‘We did all this just a few weeks ago,” as if my geriatric parents had somehow forgotten that Dad had only recently had a physical.  I would have enjoyed being a fly on that wall as Mom set the record straight.

Dad had the eye surgery last week and is recuperating well at home, but I’m infuriated with his internist’s office.  I know there are wonderful health care professionals out there like Rhonda, who devote their lives to caring for others and make patients feel well-cared for, but there seem to be more Luckys everyday.  Who are the Rhondas you depend on as you help your seniors?

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