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Handling Doctors

Here's what happened to me when I recently became ill and the whole business of our relationship with doctors was suddenly brought into sharp focus.
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You know how we all take our health for granted? All's well and we just bump along till suddenly illness strikes and stops us dead in our tracks.

Well, here's what happened to me when I recently became ill and the whole business of our relationship with doctors was suddenly brought into sharp focus. Fear not -- you're not in for an organ recital. But I do want to tell you about the sudden dependency and anonymity I was thrown into -- that we all get thrown into -- when trying to navigate the whole medical care process. I found that suddenly you're in a totally dependent position. Doctors are now in charge of your life since they're the only ones who can tell you what's wrong and how to treat it and get well.

So there I was, during a recent illness, with five doctors handling my case of separate systems that had all gone nuts. Five doctors, each of whom saw me only through the filter of his or her specialty. Each called into the case by phone from my primary care physician to focus on some anonymous person with crimps in her systems.

They were talking to him about me in their own private lingo from their own special vantage point. I realized then and there that as a person, I really didn't exist for them. They could address my system malfunctions and debate potential treatments, but they knew nothing about me as a person and how this conglomeration of illnesses was affecting me -- a whole person who was used to moving at top speed through life, quite in charge of my own faculties and choices. And it became clear that I needed to emerge. It dawned on me that I ought to write a letter of introduction, telling them all whom they were dealing with, hoping for a personal connection and identity, and generating a new look at me, not just my problems.

When Steve Jobs was in the final stages of his illness, he allowed his wife, Laurene Powell, to convene a meeting of his doctors. From Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs:

"He realized that he was facing the type of problem that he never permitted at Apple. His treatment was fragmented rather than integrated. Each of his myriad maladies was being treated by different specialists ... but they were not ordinated in a cohesive approach."

His wife called a meeting but, not being Steve Jobs, I figured a letter would have to do...

I told them why I was writing and added a really quick bio telling them exactly who I was, what my life was about and why I needed their help to get me back to where I was. And I listed all five doctors with their phone numbers at the end, subtly encouraging them to talk to each other.

To get the maximum impact, I had each letter hand delivered, and you know what? It worked like a charm! I got to talk to each of them and got special appointments. One even gave me his cell phone number in the event I got anxious! And once again I felt really known and cared for.

So that's my prescription for one way to break through today's impersonal express systems and get back to the old one-on-one personhood status. And do stay healthy!

P.S. All is well -- mending, healing and a little wiser for wear.