When I was in the seventh grade, I was sure that I would become an MD. I still have the little carefully-stapled booklet of all the detailed ink drawings I did that year of every damn bone in the body. I managed to ignore the cognitive dissonance of embracing this path while continuing to attend the Christian Science Sunday School. I just kept my mouth shut and played the hymns on the little pump organ that nobody else could play. I never believed any of it, just memorized what I was expected to say, and didn’t ever realize how bizarre it all was.
My cover was blown when I won a Merit Scholarship in high school and a big hometown newspaper feature said I was admitted to an honors pre-med program at the University of Michigan. I more or less heaved a sigh of relief and never went back to the Christian Science place. I was enraptured with my own medical plans and could conveniently deep-six my strange schizoid “religious” experience. Neither of my parents had ties there, my mother just thought it had a rosy glow, and it was somewhere to get rid of me for Sunday mornings.
OK, I’m not an MD, I’m in theatre, but I would have been a good doc. I have an acute ability for diagnosis, but I keep it to myself. I did work in medical and dental offices while Conrad was earning his degrees, and I saw the work of some fine practitioners. In his last year, I worked for a brilliant internist who was six months behind in his billing. He was a true mensch. I remember one time when he did a bone-marrow biopsy on a patient who was a total Rosalind Russell, red lipstick and abundant dark hair and vitality that could have powered a city’s electrical grid.
That procedure is incredibly painful, involving jamming a large-bore needle directly into the breastbone and aspirating marrow. I could hear the two of them in the treatment room telling dirty jokes and roaring with laughter. He finished, she left, and he went back into the back room the nurses had prepared for him, laid himself down and wept. They’d seen it before. This was her last remission. That man practiced medicine with a capital M.
Much later we did performances and workshops in Pennsylvania at the Hershey Medical Center where a friend was on the Family Practice faculty. He wanted to expose his first-year students to our work, opening insights into the human experience before they got down to the “cellular level,” as he put it. He was not only a teacher, he was a Family Practice MD himself. In that specialty, you see and know every member of a family, which gives unique insights into diagnosis and treatment.
Soon after we moved to California, I found a good physician for us, at least for a while. He’d spent a long time as an ER doc in New Jersey, and he was a tough funny guy with a Jersey accent. No stuffed shirt he, and he’d listen when we talked to him. Time went on, and he got older, and the way of doing medicine changed. Now he had to spend most of his time with us trying his best to log everything on his office laptop, because now that was how you practiced medicine. I missed him but was relieved when he retired. It hurt him to try to give care in the middle of a machine.
We stayed with what had been his group practice, but it changed in disconcerting ways. The roster of people became a revolving door, and we never got to know any particular MD. Then Covid hit, they didn’t answer their phone, you couldn’t knock on the door, your only method of communication was to put a note on their web-portal. Primary-care physician? What’s that? But they did take Medicare.
It wasn’t useless. When CB tested positive for Covid, my note on the Portal got a prompt response and an immediate Rx for Pavloxid. But he needs a referral to a neurologist, which we requested at least two years ago. They found one, but he retired and nobody told us why we weren’t getting to see anybody. It’s all new people again now, and we’re trying again. Neurologists who take Medicare don’t grow on vines.
I asked around to try to get names of physicians who actually see people. I got one very strong recommendation, but he can’t take new patients because he’s staying in the office way past dinnertime to care for the ones he has. That office recommended two others, but they only do “Concierge” medicine. You pay $1500 a year, every year, but that just gets you on the list; you still pay for the office visits and treatment.
I’m glad I went into theatre.