Who is at the Helm of This Ship?

I had been receiving antibiotic infusions for the last ten days and had not seen a doctor since that first late afternoon when I presented to their office with cellulitis of the breast.  I was feeling like a cow that was brought in to be milked daily.  The IV nurses were wonderful and they know what they are doing.  I had met some nice people who are, like me, receiving treatment for one type of infection or another.  Dutifully, we came in at our appointed time and got “hooked up and juiced”.  We’d chat, commiserate, and wish each other good health and new energy.

But I wondered: when was I going to see a doctor, get the results of my blood cultures and how long was I going to need treatment?

I was initially told that the doctors see infusion patients once a week and I would see the doctor on the following Monday.  Monday came but there were no doctors and the front desk staff said everyone was going to be seen on Tuesday.  Tuesday turned out to be my sprint from one doctor to another and then turned into an afternoon marathon at one doctor’s office which made it impossible to get my infusion before 4 pm, let alone see the infusion doctor.    I was told I would see the doctor on Wednesday.  On Wednesday, after inquiring about seeing the physician for my weekly update, the front desk receptionist stated that doctors are not in on Wednesday but I would see a doctor on Thursday.  Thursday, there was a doctor in the office but he does not see infusion patients!  At that point, I offered to go over to their other office if it meant being able to see a doctor.  The receptionist informed me that while I could go to the other office, there was no guarantee that I would be seen.  It was Friday before I saw a new emergency physician covering for the six member practice.


As a patient, I work hard at getting well.  That means following the advice of my healthcare providers: be it the nurses, the doctors or the front desk staff.    Louisa May Alcott said “I am not afraid of the storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship”.  So I am listening and learning.

As a retired medical secretary and a life-long member of the college of healthcare learning, I can see how this particular office fails to provide quality of care.  The front desk either does not have the doctors schedules or they are failing to accurately inform the patient of the schedule or changes in the schedule.  This is unfortunate because an informed patient is a compliant patient.  And a compliant patient produces a calmer office.  An uneducated, uninformed patient is a like bomb without a timer that could blow up at any time.  Aw, heck, I could blow at any time!

While each days antibiotic infusion makes the infection look less inflamed, fired up, and painful; my not being informed had increased my blood pressure to an alarming rate.   I had this feeling that I am on a ship in a storm where no one is at the helm.

So who is at the helm of this ship?

Ultimately, I am.

So here were my thoughts:

  • Continue an open and respectful dialogue with the front desk, probing, asking questions, making my requests known. Be specific and clear in what is needed.
  • Consider that the front desk may not be informed, and may feel overwhelmed and caught between the doctor and the patient.
  • The front desk staff takes a lot of abuse from patients who are not feeling well and doctors who are overwhelmed with work. They may be burnt out and have disengaged.
  • Remember that we as patients are consumers and have a right to know and understand what therapies are being done.
  • Speak to the Practice Manager. The Practice Manager runs the day to day operations of the practice.  They may be unaware of the problem and my information may well provide opportunity to resolve a matter that is systemic and not just in my case.  In this situation, the Practice Manager is mainly in the other office – which may have been part of the problem.
  • Request to see the doctor and spend a little time explaining the course of treatment or lack of treatment, and what is needed to feel confident in the care. Make requests respectful, specific and clear.
  • Finally, if after the above measures are taken there remains a lack of confidence in the physician and the practice, it is time to request a copy of your chart and seek healthcare elsewhere.

It’s important to realize that while we, as patients, are learning to sail our ships through the storms of illness, we can be teachers to our healthcare providers by expecting the same respect we give to them.  We must be the captain of our own ship and steer ourselves through the often choppy seas of healthcare today.


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