One time I was taking a plane to Washington for a meeting. We got diverted to Baltimore. Weather, engine trouble, I don’t remember what. The disembodied voice told us we could get off the plane if we wanted but we’d be back in the air soon. I believed the voice, which was a mistake. I could have rented a car, taken a cab, a bus, or a train, even hitchhiked, but I didn’t. I just believed what I heard, and I never got to the meeting.
The memory of that missed meeting came back to me recently. I’d been having some on and off pain, so I saw a specialist to get it fixed. He performed the usual examination, took some tests, and pronounced, “It’s “something-itis,” using a medical term I’d never heard before. And I believed him. He put me on an over-the-counter painkiller and told me maybe it would go away and maybe it wouldn’t.
I didn’t like that prognosis, so I went to another specialist for a second opinion. He ordered a bunch of tests and ultimately told me he didn’t know what was causing the pain. Maybe it’s “Something-itis,” but maybe it isn’t, he opined. “Let’s just call it pain.”
I was willing to go along with that, but calling it what it was didn’t seem to provide much of a plan going forward, What to do?
The equivalent of getting off the plane and taking a bus might have been to try acupuncture, but I didn’t do that. Instead, I went to see my primary care doctor, who said, “I think it’s anatomical.”
I didn’t really understand what that meant, having never taken a course in anatomy, but she told me to see a surgeon, and I did. He found the likely root of the problem and said, “I can fix that.” We made a date for outpatient surgery three weeks later.
Then things got worse. I emailed a distress signal to my primary care doctor, she called me at home, and I ended up spending several nighttime hours in the hospital emergency room. The pain finally subsided, so after speaking with my doctor at 2:00 in the morning, they let me leave.
The next day, a Thursday, I called the surgeon’s office, and they found operation time 12 days later. That was better than the original date, but not soon enough for me. “How about someone else?” I asked. He said he would reach out to some colleagues.
Later that day they called me back. “Dr. H. can do it tomorrow morning.”
I had no idea who Dr. H was, but at that point I would have settled for the janitor. So I showed up early the next morning on an empty stomach, as instructed.
Dr. H. turned out to be an excellent surgeon, and he seems to have fixed it. The old pain has gone away.
There are some lessons from this medical go-round, one of which is not to grit your teeth and settle for pain. I can think of at least three others.
One, see if your family doctor will give you his or her email address. Mine did, long ago, and she was there when I needed help. When I arrived in the emergency room, they knew I was coming. And the reason they called her before letting me out was that she asked them to.
Two, see that doctor first. I have nothing against specialists, but as the expression goes, if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything will likely look like a nail. In my case, that nail was called “Something-itis.”
And three, if one means of transportation isn’t getting you where you want to go, don’t just sit there. Get off and take another.