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Aging Gracefully

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The abuse I experienced in my doctor’s office the other day was surpassed only by the abuse I witnessed being doled out to another patient, who had been waiting longer than my hour and a half for her appointment. Her cries of possible abandonment were met with such apathy by the staff that it started a conversation in the waiting room.

This is a doctor renowned for mixing alternative medicine with western medicine. His reputation rests on his soothing bedside manor.

I mentioned to the room at large that my record at our pediatrician in Santa Monica was forever marred, a la Elaine’s experience in Seinfeld. I complained, while my feverish daughter was kept waiting for over an hour, that the toys in the waiting room were really dirty and I offered to clean them.

I actually saw the phrase “troublemaker” written in boldface type in my daughter’s file on our next visit. Caught in the act of reading my file, the nurse snatched it from my view, and wrote in it again while glaring at me.

Relating this experience opened a floodgate of similar experiences from the five fellow patients in the waiting room, stories of otherwise assertive people cowering in doctors’ offices for fear of alienating the staff. A Sikh doctor in Beverly Hills apparently has a secret button he pushes when he finds a patient undesirable, and then a turbaned woman escorts them out. There have also been incidents of staff repeatedly canceling a patient’s appointment and rescheduling until he or she just gives up.

There are also stories of parking garage attendants in medical buildings harassing patients for full payment up front when they don’t know exactly how long their car will be parked in the lot. Or there are cases of people brought to their knees in desperation to treat an illness, of more and more forced to pay out of pocket, of those hoping for some kind of reimbursement from insurance companies, or waiting hours for doctors who routinely double-book appointments.

What on earth is going on here? Good medical care is one of the standards that separate us from third world nations. Now, even with the outrageous prices people pay out of pocket, the treatment by staff and doctors themselves seems harried and half-hearted.

When I met with the doctor, the imparted information was crammed into a very short session. That, met with the fatigue of having read every outdated magazine in the waiting room, left me paying my bill in a confused daze, wondering if there was an alternative to the alternative.

A doctor that is a personal friend of mine has quit his business. He makes a better living selling his paintings at local art shows. He confided that being a doctor is no longer a rich man’s profession. The limitations set by his insurance company left him unable to treat patients properly while still making a prosperous living. Finding staff that would work for what he could afford to pay left him with employees that behaved unprofessionally at best.

Canadian, European, and South American doctors attend university for basically the same amount of time as their United States counterparts. Their education is highly subsidized, so they’re not burdened with enormous debt upon graduating. Expectations are lower for future earnings.

Patients will visit doctors referred to them by their local pharmacists, whom they depend on for less serious ailments. Reportedly, while critical care is better in the U.S., office visits are about the same and the patient often doesn’t pay a cent.

There are many baby boomers like myself who find themselves in a quandary after a lifetime blissfully free of medical care needs. Do we take our depleted nest eggs and retire to far-reaching lands where we can age gracefully? Or do we stick it out here in a country that feels like it’s free-falling, while acting indignant when someone suggests a net?  


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