Thursday, September 3, 2009

Finding a doctor in NYC: just as hard as it looks

I don't get sick very often anymore but when I do I am down for the count. Anything lung-affecting is the worst; I've suffered from decreased lung capacity since I was a kid. About 2 weeks ago I started coughing. I was so pissed because I know I got sick at the hospital. I was there for a consultation. I walked in healthy. I walked out sick. I knew it was pretty bad when I started waking up in the middle of the night to cough. Then came to lovely phlegm and waking up with a burning throat. There was no avoiding it: I needed to see a doctor.

Since college I've pretty much avoided the regular doctor. I've been good about the dentist and the lady doctor. But I'm young, spry and healthy. Plus health insurance is so friggin confusing. How much is my co-pay? What kind of doctors can I see? Etc. And forget asking friends for referrals -- all my friends are doctor-aversive like me. Cheating sickness by way of not seeing the doctor.

I had been going to a walk-in clinic so I tried there first. The doctors are mostly medical students doing their rotations and they're pretty nice. The doc I saw took a throat culture which came back negative, decided I didn't have the flu and recommended I take Sudafed and cough medicine. And that was it. I tried both, and while I slept (and snored, I'm sure) like a baby I woke up feeling worse and worse. After a few days I woke up one morning with what felt like blood in my throat. It was so nasty. So I went back and they gave me cough medicine with codeine. Which again helped me sleep but I wasn't getting better. I needed a real doctor.

I turned to my insurer's online physician finder. It was helpful in terms of proximity but less than helpful in terms of anything else. In a city like New York I feel like it's important to have a certified, friendly, highly-recommended doctor. And you'd think there'd be plenty of resources for finding just that doctor. But there's really not. New York Magazine publishes an annual list of Best Doctors but it's like those Who's Who buy your way in. The few websites devoted to doctor ratings had little to no information about most of the doctors.

So it became a crapshoot. The first listing I tried was a nightmare. It turned out it was affiliated with Social Services, which made for all kinds of interesting characters at the office. There were also a bunch of unsavory characters. I was lucky enough to go on a day when they were having a recovering alcoholics group come through. It was the first time in New York I felt scared. I left before my appointment.

Third time's the charm so after failures with walk-in clinics and physician finders I called a friend of a friend who is a receptionist for a plastic surgeon in the city. She found a doctor right by my work. It was nuts. I called his cell phone, then he had me call his Brooklyn office to make an appointment. It's like some kind of secret code you have to follow. But he had after hours appointments so I didn't complain.

The next night I went to the office which was above an upscale retailer. I checked in and started filling out the forms. It was just me and a couple in the waiting area. By the third page I realized they were asking an awful lot about my sexual history. Then I started noticing the office decor. An African fertility statue. Literature about cord blood. Some ad for a pregnant New Yorkers network. Oh my god, I realized. I was at a family practice, not a general practitioner. I almost left but I was so miserable and just wanted to see some doctor, any friggin doctor.

Still it was kind of mortifying when the doctor called me back and the first words that spewed out of my mouth were "uh, I may have made a mistake, I'm not pregnant or anything, I just have a cough!" He just laughed an explained that he was an MD and that the other doctors in the office specialized in fertility and family medicine. Oh. Glad we got that out of the way! The second mortifying moment was when I had to weigh myself. I know I have packed on some pounds in the past month or so and I'm already taking steps to rectify the issue. Still, it was pretty devastating to see the scale land on the heaviest weight I've ever been in my life. Just by a few poinds, but still! I'm surprised I didn't lose a pound in carbon dioxide by how much that deflated me. Not the end of the world certainly but considering I've actually really picked up my exercise routine it's unnerving.

The doc turned out to be pretty cool though. He proscribed some Zithromax for the cough (hello again and I met many times through Tonsilitis in college). Then he talked general health with me for a bit. My parents are both type II diabetics and lord I do not want to suffer the same fate. Doc told me to go get some blood work, hands me a form, recommends I hook up with a nutritionist, and wants to see me again in 2 weeks to follow up. It's just the beginning but this could be the beginning of a beautiful doctor-patient relationship. I think I found my NYC doc, and it only took 3 years.


tres tippy said...

i agree--finding a good doctor is just about as hard as finding a job, or a great apartment! i like to use, i think the reviews are pretty honest and i've been happy with all the 5 star docs i've seen. um if you're looking for an obgyn in nyc, i can tell you two that you should NOT go to!

Todd said...

I actually work for a group of New York doctors and was doing some websearches and came across this post. We hear over and over how people have a hard time finding a good doctor they can trust. Your post was actually very helpful for me as I try to understand people's state of mind when trying to find a new doctor.

I hope you have found someone you like. You would think by now it would be much easier.

It seems like you've haven't been blogging much recently, which is too bad...I really like your style!