Tuesday, June 29, 2010


This blog is about one of my incredible, off-the-wall medical experiences. I am writing it to show you that not only is it important to be vigilant with your doctors, but it is necessary to be assertive with them as well.

There are many more of these crazy stories in my new book, ELLEN IN MEDICALAND:TRUE STORIES OF HOW I FELL DOWN MEDICINE'S BLACK HOLE AND STILL LIVED AFTER ALL. It should be on Kindle by early 2011.

Ellen In Medicaland exposes the terrible things that can happen to a patient in a hospital and it is a warning to everyone: you are vulnerable in Medicaland. However, what happened to me is so bizarre that I don't think that I could have done anything to prevent these situations from taking place.

One reason for our vulnerability is that many of us are too quick to give our trust to our doctors and, in many cases, this trust is misplaced. Just because a person wears a white coat or went to an Ivy League college, it is a mistake to automatically assume that he or she is competent. In fact, many of these highly-educated doctors are unable to relate to their patients and should not be in medicine at all.

By the same token, there are many wonderful doctors, but it takes time and discernment to find them. In my view, even when your doctor is great, you should always partner with him or her and give your input in your health care. It is your body and only you live with it, not your doctor.

The incident on this blog astounded me when it occurred because it involved highly-trained Harvard doctors at a Harvard-teaching hospital in Boston. Most people think that they are safe when Harvard doctors are treating them at a Harvard institution. Unfortunately, as you will see, this belief is sometimes true and sometimes false.

In my case, the incompetency of my physicians was mind-boggling. How could so many of them completely botch my care? you may wonder after reading this story. I do not understand it either, but fail me they did and I hope that you never have to deal with medical situations so unnerving.

ELLEN IN MEDICALAND, the book, also talks about what it is like to be a caregiver because for seven years I took care of my mother as she declined. It was a very demanding experience, and it took a great toll out of me.

Nevertheless, I am glad that I was the one who was with her in her last days. We had always been close, but we got even closer and I learned so much from her during the final phase of her life.

What has astonished me in sharing my medical stories is that so many people are hesitant to divulge their own. Only after I probe them for their anecdotes do they reveal what has happened to them, almost sub rosa. Sometimes they even withhold the offending doctor's name.

In one instance, a woman spoke to me in whispers, making me feel as if we were in the Gulag. To me this fear is incomprehensible, as well as sad, because, in fact, the doctors being discussed are rude, arrogant, negligent or worse, and no one should be subjected to their toxic behavior.

If you do not have a good doctor-patient relationship, which includes good communication and respect, move on. Find someone to whom you can relate comfortably, someone who cares for you competently, kindly and sympathetically.

This blog is dedicated to those doctors who always put their patients first - Abe, Clint, Stafford, my cousin Barbara, my late Uncle Ben, the late Hal, Joel and Phil - who always cared and whose humanity remained intact in our very fractured health system. Many in this group are retired or no longer with us, but they were the best of the best.

In the past five years I have lost good doctors. It is too stressful for them in the Boston area and, therefore, they have moved to places where it is easier to practice, or they have left medicine forever. They have been a real loss to me because a good doctor is like a member of your family and he or she can never be replaced.

I have fired a few. When it was impossible to get good care from them, I never went back. One or two called me to ask why I had not set up an appointment. I said that I was going to someone else. These physicians asked no further questions. I guess they did not want to hear the reasons for my making the change.

The situations described on this blog are truly unbelievable - it still is inconceivable to me that I went through all that I write about. If I read about these incidents in a book of fiction, I would say to you that they could never happen in real life.

I have changed the names to protect the guilty and I am sure you will get a good laugh even though the humor is very black. Our health system is like the Twilight Zone and the insanity of it all is surely a source of comedy. Most importantly, though, I hope my story will give you a window into the medical world so that you will be able to handle it when you find yourselves there.

Even after all that I have suffered, I still believe that it is possible to get good health care. You must educate yourself, though, and you must be realistic about what you can expect from your doctors. It is not an easy process and it can become frustrating - especially when you are looking everywhere for a physician whom you like and that person does not seem to exist, but it can be done.

Just keep asking questions; be well-informed about your situation; and make certain that what your doctor is telling you makes sense to you. Only then will you have a good chance of navigating our health system successfully.


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