Saturday, January 14, 2017

An Upscale Client

The phone rang as I sat down to breakfast at 6 a.m. The caller was Le Montage, a super-luxury hotel in Beverly Hills. The hotel is only a few miles away. Traffic was light. Street parking was easy. It was a good visit.

This was the eighth guest I’d seen at Le Montage in a year and a half.

But there was something odd. All calls arrived during the wee hours. Perhaps five percent of a hotel doctor’s business comes at these times. What was going on?... It’s a rule that once staff realizes that phoning Doctor Oppenheim always gets Doctor Oppenheim, they see the light, but this hadn’t worked at Le Montage.

I know who serves that hotel, and if the regular, daytime staff continues to call him, it’s undoubtedly because he’s a skilled, compassionate physician. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Obscure Colleges

The lady who answered the door had no idea who I was.

“Carlos! Did you call a doctor?” she shouted over her shoulder.

He had. Carlos was a 19 year-old student from Chile renting a room in Hollywood. His hay fever was acting up.

Foreign students often have health insurance from their native country administered by agencies that call me, so I make many trips to UCLA and USC. Carlos was not attending either.

His room contained an amplifier, guitars, and an electronic piano synthesizer. He was studying composition but not at a university. It turns out Los Angeles contains music colleges that attract international students. These seem to operate like traditional schools; I often write doctor notes to justify missed classes.

Now that I think about it, Los Angeles contains plenty of obscure but internationally known educational institutions. Acting and film production come to mind, but they mostly enroll Americans so I rarely hear from them. I’ve cared for a dozen students studying jewelry and others in fashion design, architecture, cooking, graphic design, and business.  

Friday, January 6, 2017

"I Need a Shot"

Mostly, these callers are wrong, but now and then I hear from a guest undergoing legitimate treatment – usually for infertility – who needs a regular injection. They have the vial in their possession.

Invariably, they told their doctor that they must leave town, and the doctor messed up. He didn’t teach them how to self-inject or (if they recoiled at this) warn that finding someone to give an injection in a strange city guarantees frustration, wasted time, and massive expense.

Hotel doctors are in it for the money. Most guests are not terribly sick, and delivering an injection is only a little easier than the usual visit, so there’s no great reason to give a discount.

A walk-in clinic is less convenient and cheaper but probably futile. The doctor (a G.P. like me) is likely to examine the vial of medicine and say to himself:

1.     This is a medicine I don’t prescribe.
2.     I’m supposed to give it on the patient’s say-so.
3.     If she sues me, (1) and (2) will not help my defense.

If you think a letter from your doctor will change his mind, read my blog post “A Letter from His Doctor.” (April 20, 2016).

Nurses earn less than doctors, but nurses do not give medicine without a doctor’s order. A guest must convince a doctor to order the shot (good luck with that). Then a nursing service will send one of its nurses to give the injection. This will cost more than a hotel doctor’s visit.

If the medicine seems reasonable and being a nice fellow, I give injections free if the guest comes to my house. Don’t depend on that anywhere else. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Work That Pays Very Well

How many of you would take a job that paid 200 dollars an hour for driving your car? (for my international readers that’s 200 euros, 1400 yuan, or 12,000 rubles).

All of you, right?... But no doctors.

$200 an hour is what I earn for a distant housecall. It may take three hours to drive fifty miles to Newport Beach, care for a patient, and return.

I’ve made hundreds, but the colleague who covers for me refuses them, and no other housecall or hotel doctor in Los Angeles will drive far.

I’m not exaggerating when I write that I’m paid for driving. 95 percent of my patients suffer minor illnesses – respiratory infections, rashes, upset stomachs – that I’ve seen a thousand times. So it’s a matter of (1) a long, boring drive, (2) doing some easy stuff, and (3) another long, boring drive.   

Doctors get into trouble when they assume no one is sick, so I try to pay attention. And five percent of patients describe symptoms that might be serious. I worry on those drives, but usually everything works out.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

When a Doctor Sees a Doctor, Part 2

Doctors enjoy chatting about diseases but not their own. We’re as frightened as you, and we want a doctor who sympathizes and makes it go away.

Some doctors don’t understand this. They assume that, being in the business, we don’t require any touchy-feely stuff and that it’s OK to talk shop.

Twenty years ago my dermatologist biopsied a bump near my ear. When he revealed it showed a basal cell carcinoma, he had me look through the office microscope at the biopsy slide, and I saw my cancer cells. Ik!....

Five years ago, my internist heard a heart murmur and sent me to a cardiologist. After determining that I had a damaged mitral valve, he led me into an adjacent room to show the ultrasound. Since I was a doctor, he took for granted that I wanted to know the technical details, but I absolutely did not want to see a film of my poor, diseased heart in action. As he happily pointed out the leaky valve I tried not to look.

We returned to his office where he extolled the skills of a cardiac surgeon at the nearby university hospital who had great success repairing heart valves. While it wasn’t urgent, he was certain I’d enjoy talking to him.

I found another cardiologist whom I like much better. I might need surgery in the future, he explained. He’ll let me know. I see him for an ultrasound every six months. Otherwise I try not to think about it.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Hotel Doctor at the Movies

My phone buzzed. 

I sit on the aisle in theaters, so I can hurry out before speaking.

“Can you see a guest at the Sheraton?”

“Which Sheraton?”

The insurance dispatcher gave an address that I didn’t recognize. It turned out to be in San Francisco, so I was back in the theater in less than a minute. This doesn’t happen often. Mostly, when a call arrives, I leave.

When hotel guests phone directly, the conversation always takes a few minutes. Even if a housecall isn’t necessary, I’ve missed too much of the movie.

When insurance agencies phone, a housecall is almost always necessary, and it takes a few minutes to copy the information. 

What to do then…. Most patients are willing to wait a few hours until the movie ends, but I never ask them. While I don’t deny that I’m a deeply caring person, I’m also a Type-A personality. If there’s work to be done, I can’t relax until it’s done, so I always leave. This does not sit well with my wife, so we usually go to the movies in two cars.

Cashiers give me a refund if I explain that I’m a doctor on-call, but once the movie is under way, I don’t ask. My fee for a visit is much higher than a movie admission. Most of the time I’m happy to get away. I doubt if I return to a quarter of the movies after I’m called away.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

When a Doctor Sees a Doctor, Part 1

You might believe that doctors deliver better care to other doctors, but I’m not sure that’s true. It might be worse.

As a hotel doctor, I’d rather not care for a guest who happens to be a physician. For one thing, he’s likely to hint that I shouldn’t charge him.

He’s also less likely to give up his authority. Non-physicians often tell me their diagnosis and the proper treatment. Sometimes they’re right, but they rarely object if I disagree. They assume I know more than they do. When physician hotel guests tell me their opinion on the initial phone call, I’m tempted to let them have their way and avoid a housecall. Once in the room, I’d rather not be treated as a colleague. 

When I go to new doctors, I never reveal my profession (under “work” I write “self-employed”). They’re supposed to ask, but it’s not a priority.

My current dermatologist doesn’t know I’m a doctor, so I listen patiently to many explanations that aren’t necessary, but that’s fine with me. I want her to treat me like everyone else. After five years, my family doctor casually asked what I did for a living, and I could detect his surprise when I answered. But I’m satisfied with the medical care he delivers. On the rare occasion he makes a suggestion that I disagree with, I behave like any other patient. I keep my mouth shut and ignore it.