Friday, March 09, 2007

Adventures in Medicine Update


Today I got a good sense of what it is to be cattle. While the process made a sort of sense at the intellectual level, and it was a good thing to get several things out of the way at once, the experience was less than satisfying for me. Having promised to write a straightforward (if somewhat sporadic) journal about what it is to have cancer, today’s events require a mention, because if you should find yourself battling a serious disease, it is very likely that you too will encounter the same sort of obstacles.

I drove down to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Medical Center (or MDA) this morning for a series of tests, to track the progress of my tumor growth. Since the plans for my treatment have up to now assumed the continued indolent state of my tumors, these tests would serve as important indicators. I noted earlier this week to my wife, that my work required me to be in the office by 8 AM, but for these tests I would need to be present to check in at 7 AM. A small thing, but also an early warning that my ‘day off’ for the tests would hardly be a relaxing one.

The first obstacle, besides traffic in the area of the Medical Center (a number of hospitals all sit within blocks of each other, creating a location convenient for medical professionals, but decidedly unfriendly to patients and their families), is parking. There are several large parking garages, but they are expensive, difficult in places to navigate, and there never seem to be a lot of spaces available. To say nothing of the fact that everyone seems to be impatient, so that as you try to squeeze your car into a place you finally locate, cars are flying past you and quite nearly clipping your end off. Not the best way to begin the morning.

Once I made my way into the main building, I found my way easily enough to the 7th Floor, where the Gastro-Intestinal office is located. I then wasted a few minutes looking for someone with whom to check in, because the person who ought to have manned the front desk was absent. I found a nurse who helped me with al my paperwork and it went smoothly, but again I should remind the reader that several times in my appointments, I have found that the medical profession is not always altogether punctual.

There’s no reason to go too much into the details of my blood work, the x-rays, and my several CT Scans, except to observe that I spent six hours with what amount to a temporary faucet in my arm, to expedite the collection of blood and the insertion of an IV solution. In addition, when I showed up at the location for my CT Scan, I first discovered a collection of overworked and absolutely dispirited staff who quite clearly no longer thought of the patients as people, but very much like cattle. And when my name was finally called to go to the rooms for my actual scans, the nurse who greeted me and flushed my vein attachment took my paperwork and set it down in the wrong place, so that the staff forgot about me for 45 minutes. By itself this was no big deal, but in addition to the other events of the day, it struck me as just a bit less than professional, and another indicator of why we were referred to by our “patient number” as often as by our real names.

At this point I must hasten to note the truly professional standards to which MDA normally performs. The blood work was done well and quickly, even though my veins played hard to get. So too, the X-ray portion was smooth and seamless, as if it were no difficulty to navigate several dozen people an hour through that one office. I should be deficient and misleading if I did not compliment those offices on their fine work. The actual performance of the CT Scans by the technicians was thorough, professional in its detail and attention to the task, and I have every confidence that the results of these tests will be comprehensive and suitable to the needs of the doctors. I also would note that the nurse in the GI office who handled my paperwork was polite and fast, even though she was doing someone else’s work. On the whole, then, I accomplished what I set out to do, and most of the staff I met were courteous and professional. I would even go so far as to say that the problems I encountered were singular and limited to the individuals directly charged with the task, rather than a systemic problem. But it also needs to be observed, that even so fine a place as MD Anderson has areas where they fail at times, and where they could stand to pay attention to problems. And of course, we patients need to be aware that these aggravations will come along to bump us along the way.


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