Adventures in Medicine

Recently, I had medical adventures of the first order.

Background: I am distrustful of doctors, as I have a long and sordid history of being treated poorly by them, from disrespect to careless misdiagnosis to open homophobia.

I also don’t like my access to health and health care to be controlled by my ability to obtain expensive health insurance from corrupt companies who care not for my health, and by uncaring professionals who treat me dismissively but take my money and go home to lifestyles ten times more comfortable than my own. I don’t like to have to go to a new doctor and beg for my needed medications in the hope they will deign it acceptable every time I move.

Anecdote: I once visited a doctor who made me wait in an examination room for 45 minutes, stopped in for five minutes, stared at the wall the entire time I spoke to him, and, while still refusing to even look at me, recommended I undergo an expensive and invasive procedure. Once home, I researched my symptoms on my own and discovered that procedure was not necessary or recommended for patients with my condition. I talked with my parents about my poor treatment, at which point I learned that my father knew this doctor. I found out later that the doctor was embarrassed to learn whose daughter I was and apologized profusely to my father for the way he treated me.

THAT IS SO FUCKED UP. He would have treated me like a human if he had realized I was related to someone who had the ability to affect his professional reputation. Instead, I got treated like a “regular” patient, and apparently, as he expressed embarrassment regarding his behavior, he knows this treatment is unacceptable but does it anyway when he thinks the patient has no power. But why?

Present day: I moved from across the country to New York. So I had to go through the whole no insurance/obtaining insurance/finding new doctors rigmarole again. I live in the United States and have a modest income, so this means I have the opportunity to be fucked while not on insurance, have a very limited selection of doctors once on insurance, and be exploited by insurance and the doctors when I actually seek health care. I also have the opportunity to pay enormous out-of-pocket costs for anything not covered by my insurance.

First I sought mental health care, as I am affected by debilitating anxiety when not on meds. Meds must be prescribed by a psychiatrist. I needed to find a psychiatrist fast as I had spent a long time unemployed, and therefore uninsured, had gone off my meds, and was experiencing a precipitous decline in mental health.

I called the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, the LGBT clinic, but they didn’t take my insurance. I grew worried because I had experienced homophobia from mental health workers before, and it does not help my mental health problems. They recommended another clinic, where I went to see a general practitioner. She refused to prescribe my meds and said I needed to go to a psychiatrist. But though the clinic accepted my insurance for the GP, it wouldn’t accept it for a psychiatrist.

So I searched for lists of LGBT-friendly doctors in New York City. None of the names I found were covered by my insurance. Days were passing and I was getting worse.

I started calling every person listed under “psychiatry” on my insurance company’s website. I called five a day. I mostly left messages, and few called me back. Whenever I did talk to someone, they told me I would have to wait one to two months to get an appointment. That was not possible in my condition.

I found a walk-in psychiatry hospital. I took off work and went. They told me there were too many patients and that I would have to try and come back another day.

I started crying every day. Getting up and going to work was a herculean effort. I started missing work as my mental health deteriorated and I couldn’t handle my duties. I stopped going out to see friends or purchase food because my social anxiety had taken hold too. The thought of leaving the house caused panic attacks that made me think I was dying.

I called a mental health emergency helpline. They told me they couldn’t get me an appointment unless I threatened suicide or that I might harm someone. They suggested I try the walk-in clinic I had already been turned away from. I begged for more options but they said they had none.

I discovered my insurance had a special mental health phone number. I called it, but they said the same thing as the other line. I had to threaten suicide or harm, elsewise they weren’t going to get me an appointment, and I would just have to wait the one-two months to get an appointment on my own. But I begged for help until the lady relented and said if I called at least ten more providers and still couldn’t get an appointment, she would help me.

So I called a dozen more psychiatrists. No one would give me an emergency appointment. I called the insurance line back and spoke to the same lady. She told me that she might be able to get me an emergency appointment in Long Island. I explained that I had no car and couldn’t travel outside of the city. She said that was very problematic, but she would think about it and would call me back.

Surprisingly, she called me back with a phone number for a “Dr. Z” (not his real name) and told me she thought he might have openings. I called him and he did.

I was very uncertain about seeing a random man about sensitive but vital mental health needs. I was also deeply afraid of confronting more homophobia. Until I looked him up and observed that among his specialties were anxiety and LGBT issues. I began to hope.

Three days later I went to see Dr. Z. He was professional and efficient to a fault, but when he asked about relationships and I stated my queerness, he became significantly more sympathetic towards me. He prescribed the medicine I asked for and gave me a list of therapists he recommended. As he gave me the list, he leaned forward and whispered with a certain amount of drama, “You didn’t hear it from me, but the ones with stars next to them? They are lesbians.”

Success at last! But not until I had been through such unnecessary misery that it just seems plan unethical. My distrust of the medical system grows with every interaction I have with it.

Medical Adventure II, the sequel: I went to my new general practitioner to get a check-up just to make sure no unseen health problems had cropped up during my months of uninsuredness.

Everything was routine until she said, “Now I have to ask you some more… personal questions.”

Oh shit. I knew what was coming and mentally braced for it.

How many sexual partners have you had in the last year? Are you currently sexually active? How many partners do you have now? Do you have sex with men, women, or both?

I answered “Theoretically, both.”

She swallowed and looked down at a paper she was writing on. “And have you used protection every time?”

“Uh, almost every time….” She pushed me until I revealed that there had been a single incident in the preceding year where I hadn’t used protection.

“And why did you not use protection?”

In my head, I wanted to say it was because certain forms of sex with the ladies are extremely low risk. Instead I simply said, “Poor decision-making.”

She said she didn’t know how to respond to that, but that I should use a condom every time. I glanced at her quickly, as I had just revealed that I preferred the ladies. She noticed my glance and said, “…well, with the men. And with women… um…. uh… you should always use the female condom.” I LOLed. “What’s so funny!?”

“Um… I’m laughing at my poor decision making.”

“AND, we need to get you an AIDS test right away!”

That got me to shut up. Not because I am afraid of AIDS tests. It’s important to know one’s status, and I was due for a screening. I was struck dumb by her quick succession of displays of LGBT health ignorance.

That was the day I stopped using the term “making love” and changed it to “making AIDS,” because that’s all we gay people do when our genitals touch anyway.

My trust in the medical profession is not restored.

Please post respectful comments or your own experiences with health care, mental health care, or being an LGBT patient.

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3 thoughts on “Adventures in Medicine

  1. Hey, wow. I am so enraged by that last episode you described – fucking awful. Would have laughed in her face, or cried, or both.

    Probably my worst medical experiences have been 1) when my OB-GYN at the time put his finger into my ass without warning me, and 2) when the psychiatrist I had to see for diagnosis cut me off in the middle of literally EVERY sentence. I would be saying something and he’d finish all my sentences with his conclusion. It was infuriating, and I finally called him on it.

    I haven’t ever come out to a doctor – probably because of the fear of experiences like yours.

  2. Thanks for sharing Katie. Both of your stories sound dreadful. Blech.

    I used to be closeted at doctors appointments, but that made me feel shitty. So then I tried the tactic of being out. That made me feel shitty too. That’s what you call a real lose-lose situation.

  3. Rely on your instincts and your humor, you live in New York now … and there are a lot of toxic insects walking around in human skin suits! Carry RAID!

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