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I have a rocky history when it comes to doctors. My stomach and I haven’t gotten along since fifth grade, and as a result I’ve spent a good deal of time visiting different docs, hoping that one of them will solve the unsolvable. What I don’t have is a diagnosis, but what I do have are stories.
Greenwich Village, Gastroenterologist
Crazy Doctor Lady’s office was in an apartment building close to campus. When I arrived, a minute or two late, she was nowhere to be found. After fifteen minutes spent hanging out with the doorman, the doctor arrived, flustered. She led me into the office, sat down behind the desk, and handed me paperwork. It was then I realized that this would be no normal appointment: she was her own secretary. While it wasn’t odd that a doctor with a small practice would also act as receptionist, it was odd that when I booked the appointment on the phone, she pretended to be one. I believe her exact words had been “The doctor is pretty busy on Wednesday but there’s a possibility she can squeeze you in. Let me check with her and I will get back to you.” It suddenly made sense why she had called me back so quickly. “Checking with the doctor” simply meant hanging up the phone, thinking to herself “I guess I can squeeze this girl in at 3:30,” picking up the phone, and dialing my number.
She praised her excellent record as a medical detective. When a man walked into her office complaining of stomach pains that had remained undiagnosed, she sent him away with news that he had a tapeworm. I obviously felt very comfortable. And even more comfortable when my seemingly normal tabletop examine turned into my being hooked up to an EKG machine. Suddenly I was covered in electrodes connected to a screen she was monitoring. And then came the questioning. But this was not normal EKG questioning, whatever that might be. No, the first question she posed was the most inappropriate one possible.
“Jacqueline, do you like my sweater? I was going to go with a yellow one but then I thought, this baby blue shade goes better with my eye color.” Her craziness was no longer camouflaged. She was insane, and I was hooked up to a machine.
I managed to survive the rest of the appointment, after validating several more of her fashion choices, of course. Not surprisingly, no other patients ever entered her office that afternoon.
Union Square, Psychiatrist
Next I tried a different approach for my stomach, a psychiatrist. Because, well, why not?
This doctor’s office was also in an apartment building. And while I guess that’s very common for a city doctor, after my experience with Crazy Doctor Lady, this should have been a sign. The appointment started out well enough. We slugged through my laundry list of symptoms and my medical history. And then I apparently made a huge mistake: I confided in the doctor my observations regarding effective treatment. I told her my stomach likes wine− it calms it down. She was suddenly very interested, squinting her eyes and asking, “How often do you drink this… this wine?” I responded with “A glass every other day? I’m not a heavy drinker. I just enjoy a glass of wine and it seems to calm down my stomach.”
And now her pen was down.
“Does alcoholism run in your family?” “No, not at all.”
And then came the kicker. “You, young lady, are on an extremely dangerous path. A path that ends with you injuring your body with alcohol. You need to get on the right track before this gets out of hand. I’m going to give you some pamphlets.”
No wonder so many people aren’t honest with their doctors. Tell the truth and you’re diagnosed with alcoholism.
I thought it made sense to see the gastroenterologist at a university hospital. I hoped he might have a new perspective on my situation, seeing as a majority of his patients were twentysomething students.
It turns out that his vast experience with college students made him adept at critiquing their academic choices. My stomach wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I believed creative writing, urban studies, and food studies comprised an acceptable concentration. According to Dr. Academic, one should only study history. And if not history, than economics. It seemed that in his opinion, my stomach problems were most likely the result of my inappropriate scholarly interests.
No, he had no brilliant ideas regarding my physical ailments, just a strong conviction that I was walking down the wrong academic path by taking mindless courses. And his opinionated diatribe went on so long that I was late to my next (pointless) class.
So what have I learned from these doctors? Well, nothing relating to my stomach. But I did learn the following: I’m well on my way down two dangerous paths, one toward substance abuse and another toward fruitless career goals, and you should never let a stranger in a blue sweater hook you up to electrodes.