I’ve been having a problem with my left foot since April, when I strained my achilles tendon playing tennis.
I thought it was the kind of injury that would heal itself if I just stopped playing for a few months. I’ve had lots of those injuries, like the broken toe, in which there’s no reason to go to the emergency room because all they’re going to do is tape the broken toe to the one next to it, give you a pain reliever, and send you home. Same thing with a broken rib, or a slight muscle tear I had in my upper arm a few years ago. No medical intervention necessary, just let the healing power of the human body take its course.
My thinking — and I know this is a typically male thought — was to stop playing, take it easy, and wait to get back on the court for the fall season. A week before Labor Day, I went out to test myself by hitting some balls with my wife and daughter, but after only 40 minutes on the court, it was clear I wouldn’t be able to play doubles at full speed three times a week as I used to.
It was at that point that I went to see my physician, who suggested that after more than four months, the injury might be worse than I speculated, so I should get an MRI and see a specialist. Armed with that film, he sent me to an orthopedist who seemed a little too eager to do surgery, and since I’d had too much experience getting cut open last year, I want to avoid the scalpel unless it’s the absolute last resort.
My physician sent me to another orthopedist for a second opinion, and I liked what she suggested — immobilizing my foot for six weeks in a plastic boot (actually, an air cast), which I started wearing a couple of days ago. Hopefully, by Thanksgiving, after all that inactivity, the tendon will have healed itself, and I’m hoping to play tennis again by January.
But that’s not what I’m writing about tonight.
In both visits to the orthopedists, I was frustrated by the process — in particular, the nurses’ use of the biggest lie in medicine: “The doctor will be right with you.” That’s what they said after I had filled out all the paperwork, had an x-ray taken, gone over what was bothering me, and finally been placed me in an examination room, where I was effectively abandoned.
The doctor was not “right with me.” I sat in there for the better part of an hour. I’d forgotten to bring a book or magazine, so I used my iPhone to review email, check Twitter, and look around at a few news websites. But after absorbing all the content I could think of from my electronic friend, I’d only killed a half-hour. Next I reviewed all the orthopedic charts on the wall, memorizing the Latin names for all the bones in the foot, which was only slightly less interesting than looking at those transparent “visible man” pages in the World Book when I was a kid.
I was in there so long I got an accurate count of the cotton balls in the jar on the counter. But still no doctor.
To make matters worse, I’d occasionally hear someone outside my door pulling the clipboard fake. That’s when a staff member comes up to the door to your examination room, rattles the clipboard containing your medical information, perhaps even removes it to review something, and then puts it back in its holder. I imagine they looked at it, saw I’d only been waiting 45 minutes, realized that wasn’t nearly long enough, and continued to leave me in limbo.
What’s most bothersome about this is how common this practice is. I’m happy to say that my personal physician is very good at understanding the concept of The Appointment: two people agreeing to meet in a certain place at a certain time, with both then abiding by that agreement.
Apparently, this is not how the rest of the medical community defines an appointment. Their definition involves the patient sitting on the crinkly exam table paper for longer than necessary until the doctor finds a few minutes to spend in their presence. Now, I understand that these are busy practices, and they’re trying to jam as many patients in as possible, but I can’t help but wonder if the MD’s even know how rude and inconsiderate this is. Do they ever get sick enough to need another doctor’s attention, and if so, do they have to wait around like we do?
At one point, I thought this was part of the orthopedists’ method of handling cases like mine. They took one look at my MRI and x-ray and realized that my achilles tendon would heal itself over time — so why rush?