I’m at the point where I have to admit that I am getting older. For the last few decades, I haven’t changed that much physically (other than the slight or not-so-slight fluctuations of my weight). But, basically, my body has held to a pretty straight line throughout my 20s, 30s and 40s. Now, in my 50s, there are some changes. In 2008 I wrote Changing Faces about the differences I saw in my face, but now, three years later, I’m feeling similar changes in my body, specifically stiffness, inflammation and pain. I’ve realized that it’s time to get serious about my medical care. After having a wonderful family doctor from our late 20s throughout our 30s, for the last several years I’ve had the equivalent of medical speed-dating when it comes to my personal doctors. One left the area, one didn’t return from maternity leave, one wasn’t available to me after a change in my insurance, one thought medical care equaled pill-popping care and one yelled at me in front of her staff and other patients because her receptionist had scheduled the wrong type of appointment for me. This revolving medical door hasn’t really been a problem, though, because I haven’t had any serious issues so I really don’t go to the doctor very often anyway. Now, however, I feel the need to establish a relationship with someone who will walk with me along this path called aging. I want someone who will help me dawdle on the path at the slowest rate possible. Someone to whom I can talk about the little aches and pains that prevent or limit my physical abilities. Someone who will get to know me and will look at the entire package, not just the joint or foot that is currently causing a problem. I’m not asking for hour-long appointments, just a little personal attention and an open dialogue and, for me, that means a degree of friendliness that has been lacking in much of my medical care.
I’ve spent some time recently researching doctors with the hope of finding someone new with whom I could begin to establish a relationship. One particular doctor caught my eye – female; similar age; new to the area, but loving our brand of liquid sunshine and interested in preventive care and education as important parts of the healthcare process. I made a get-to-know-each-other appointment and was further encouraged when the scheduling person said, “She’s new to our clinic, but people are saying very good things about her.” I prepared a short one-paragraph bio about myself, a list of my other medical care providers (OB/GYN, podiatrist, chiropractor, etc.), a list of my current medications, supplements and vitamins and a brief rundown of my recent medical issues and current concerns. I went to the appointment with excitement and anticipation. Everything went well with checking in, establishing my records and talking with the medical assistant, then the DOCTOR walked in. She smiled, put out her hand and introduced herself. I said I was happy to meet her and asked, “May I call you by your first name?” A simple question, asked politely with a smile. For me, calling someone by a title presumes a certain interpersonal distance or reserve – not the type of relationship I’m looking for in the person I want to walk with on this path of aging healthfully and gracefully. I had determined that being on a first-name basis was going to be integral to developing the type of relationship I was hoping to establish and, frankly, I thought that it was a pretty innocuous request. Our society gave up using most titles a long time ago. Most people do not refer to each other as Mr., Mrs. or Miss. When I was growing up in the 60s it was common for adults to introduce each other using their social titles and last names; I haven’t seen that done recently, except in some foreign countries. So why do we continue to use titles for doctors? I don’t get it and I didn’t think it was a big deal to ask to be on a first name basis. I was shocked at this DOCTOR’s reply, “No I’d prefer you call me Dr. So-and-So.” She then went on to say that she also prefers to call her patients by their social titles and last names. Really? I felt a flashback to the 60s coming on. I may be 53, but I am NOT Mrs. Dunham – that would be my mother-in-law. My name is Debbie. I’d even prefer Deb or Debra to Mrs. Dunham. Heck, someone once wanted to call me DeDe (the initials of my first and last names) and, though I quickly squashed that idea, I’d prefer DeDe to Mrs. Dunham.
Needless to say, that was the end of that appointment. My excitement and anticipation were squelched, my current concerns are still unaddressed and I am still searching for a doctor who will walk my path with me.