The doctor came highly recommended by my internist, who is a funny, patient and compassionate man. My potentially disabling disease had struck quickly and decisively, resulting in multiple "sports injuries," a plethora of doctor visits and a panicked midnight trip to the ER.
"It's not your imagination and it's not sports injuries," my internist said as he showed me the test results. "I'm referring you to a specialist."
"You're a tough act for another doctor to follow."
This was a man who would sit and talk to me as long as I needed him. I was willing to thumb through 10 magazines waiting for him, knowing he sat patiently with others, as he would with me. I am a woman with a lot of questions and multiple anxieties.
The specialist's office was quiet.
"First appointment? New patient?" the office staff greeted me. They drew my blood and placed me in an office. The specialist walked in promptly. He looked to be about my age and in a hurry. I started to pepper him with questions, let him know I was scared and reviewed what I had learned on the Internet. None of these tactics went over well.
"I'm not going to tell you a thing until we look at the blood work." He was annoyed.
"But I already had the blood work done, and I have the genetic marker," I heard myself babbling. I babble when people are impatient with me. I also begin to sound half-witted.
To be fair, I could see that he would want to look at something more than the emergency room's tests. Even so, this disease had thrown me to the mat, and I wanted to talk about it.
The doctor stopped me again. "You're lucky you have it, if you have it."
"But my friend said her mother had it so badly that if she ever got it she would kill herself." I couldn't stop myself.
"There are new miracle drugs." He looked at his watch and stood. He handed me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory and prepared to leave.
"Wait," I said to his back. "Should I take this with food? Should I stop lifting weights? Is there a support group for this disease?"
"Yes with food. If it hurts after you lift, stop. Try swimming. I don't know about support groups; I don't deal with them." He was gone.
The next few appointments consisted of blood tests to pinpoint the subtype of disease I had (I did have it), and this conversation:
Me: (rapidly) "I'm sorry. I know you're in a hurry, but how do I know what drug I should go on? What kind of co-pay will I have for the expensive one? How many people get results? Do the results last?"
Doctor: "I don't usually spend this much time on a patient. I've given you the information on the possible treatments. I can't tell you about the cost; you need to find out."
Me: "Wait! I'm not done."
Doctor: "I have a lot of people waiting in my office."
Me (to the closing door): "There's no one else out there. Will the new drug make me grow two heads?"
On the next visit, he said he was working on persuading my insurer to cover the costs of one of the miracle drugs. "Decide for yourself if you want to start on it."
The comment made me anxious. "Do I have to inject it? How do I learn to do that? What if it doesn't work?"
Against my better judgment, I attempted another joke. "Oh, well, I'll be dead by the time the side effects crop up! Ha ha!"
"Right," he said and was gone.
Later that week, so was I. I wanted an office that was not a joke-free zone.
I found my new specialist through a friend. I waited a long time for my first appointment and about an hour in the waiting room. These, to me, were good signs. She came in and sat down on a chair next to me. She listened. She agreed the disease had come on like gangbusters. She listened some more. Her eyes were wise and her answers were clear.
She spent nearly 30 minutes with me, and at one point I started crying. "You're kind," I explained. She handed me some tissue and asked me if I had anything else on my mind before she left. For once I didn't.
Finding the right doctor makes me feel better already. One of the pleasures of being in my 50s is that I will not put up with someone who makes me feel inferior.