As we get older, more time is spent in doctors' waiting rooms. Medicine has become a business. The kindly old family physician who rarely prescribed anything stronger than chicken soup has been replaced by a team of corporate types who pay closer attention to insurance company billing loopholes than they do to medical journals. The musty old waiting room of long ago filled with two-year old National Geographic magazines has become a gleaming sanctuary where patients spend a good part of their day sitting in uncomfortable chairs watching bad reality shows on big-screen TVs. I don't know why they bother making appointments since they are never kept. Brusque nurses shuttle them from one waiting room to another until that magical announcement finally comes..."the Wizard will see you now."
It's hard to blame doctors for their money-grubbing approach to healing. There are big bucks to be made in the world today for a doctor who understands the rules and how to bend them. Whenever I visited Dr. Iorio, my childhood physician, the first question his nurse Millie would ask my mother was: "What seems to be bothering your son today?" By contrast, the first question asked of you these days, even if you walk in holding a severed limb, is: "Who's your insurance company." They won't even look at you until you can prove you're not a deadbeat. Nurses are not chosen for their medical training or empathetic manner, but for how well they know claim and billing procedures. On my last doctor's visit the young lady sitting at the reception desk was dressed all in black, had several facial parts pierced, and was covered with tattoos. She looked like she should be biting the heads off chickens instead of taking my medical history.
The patients are a trip too. They will freely discuss their ailments and symptoms at length with anyone who'll listen. Medications are a favorite topic. I heard the following conversation between two women: Woman #1: My diabetes medicine works good on my blood sugar but it gives me gas and diarrhea. Woman #2: I know what you mean...I take Zoloft and I can never be far from a bathroom. (Fascinating information ladies, can you please speak more slowly so I can get all of this down.) Then there was the woman that approached the Goth receptionist and spoke no English. It sounded like she was speaking Russian, and just showed up on the assumption that someone could help her. Goth girl kept repeating that she had to be able to "verbalize" what she wanted if she expected help. The woman got angry and frustrated. I sat there thinking that shouting words like verbalize at this woman was not going to be of much use.
My personal doctor is a great guy...too great. He loves to chat everybody up while the people in the waiting rooms are backing up and grumbling. His wife Anne, who helps around the office, is constantly barging in on patient conferences telling him to speed it up. His favorite topic with me is his health. He tells me about his weight loss and exercise regimens. He tells me what medications he's on and how he likes to cut his own grass even though he can afford a gardener. On my last visit I happened to mention our recent trip to Sicily. This reminded him of his army days and the time he spent in Italy. Needless to say, after 30 minutes of this, Anne stuck her head in the door and just glowered at him. I make my best "not my fault" gestures as her heated gaze rests on me.
Modern medicine has come so far. So many diseases are treatable today, hell, so many more diseases are known today than ever before. I'm happy about this of course, but I never get the same sense of comfort from modern doctors that I got from Dr. Iorio. He wore a rumpled grey suit, smoked like a chimney, and sported a great walrus moustache on his kind face. Not your poster boy doctor to be sure, but when he told me I'd be running around again in a few days, I never doubted him.
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