Friday, December 19, 2014

A Dog-eat-dog Business, Part 7


A travel insurer sent me to a large airport hotel that hasn’t called this year, so I decided to reintroduce myself.

“We don’t have a doctor,” said the lady in the security office.

“I’ve made hundreds of visits. Your office called me all the time.”

“I never did,” she insisted. She summoned a nearby officer who agreed that no one knew about a hotel doctor. She accepted my card and put it in a drawer.

My next stop was the concierge desk, but it was vacant. When times are tough, concierges are the first employees to go. The front desk clerks agreed that having a hotel doctor was a wonderful idea and thanked me for my cards.

“I guess no one’s been sick,” said the bellman cheerfully when I queried him. I had no doubt that whatever doctor he called tipped him $20 or $30 or $50 for the referral. This is illegal but a common practice. My veteran colleagues express outrage, and I have no reason to disbelieve them, but we all agree that several aggressive young doctors are paying generously. It’s the quickest way to break in. The bellman thanked me for my card and put it in a drawer.

If you assume that general managers hate choosing a doctor on the basis of his kickback, you’d be right. Sometimes. When I informed the GM of the Westin, he took action. When I informed the GM of a famous Beverly Hills Hotel he merely passed my letter on to the chief concierge who phoned to announce that I need expect no further calls from that hotel.

Sick guests often call the operator, so I dialed the hotel.

“Hi, Doctor Oppenheim. It’s been a long time.”

That was a pleasant surprise. The operator explained that she had worked there for twenty years and spoken to me many times. She added that her directory contained no doctor's name. She would be happy to take down my number and pass it around.  

I left feeling pleased with myself because I hardly ever market myself to employees. But that was in August, and the hotel still isn’t calling.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Glamorous Job


A five-year-old was coughing and congested.

His parents were guests at Loews in Hollywood, nine miles away through city streets. Nineteen miles on the freeway would take less time provided traffic moved smoothly, but this was unlikely at 4 p.m. on a Friday. I told the mother that it sounded like a routine virus, but she insisted the child needed attention.

Sometimes being hotel doctor to the stars is not so glamorous. Then I recalled a pediatrician colleague who had expressed interest in helping out. I phoned his office. He was finishing his last patient and, to my delight, agreed to make the housecall. I was so relieved that I forgot to tell him a few things.

That evening he phoned to let me know the visit had gone well.  

“But it took almost two hours to reach the hotel, and they charged me fifteen dollars to park.”

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Helping a Lady


A guest at Checkers, an upscale downtown hotel, had the flu with a 103 fever. I washed my hands before examining her; afterwards I washed again and included my stethoscope. I’ve had the flu shot, but I still worry about catching it. This happened in 1977 and I remember it as the worst illness of my life until I became old.

I finished just before midnight. Returning to my car, I passed two young women arguing bitterly on the sidewalk. One insisted on walking to their hotel, the other objected because she was wearing high heels.

At my age, no one considers me threatening. As I started the engine, one of the women tapped on my window and asked for a lift. I drove her to the Bonaventure, six blocks away. She had been drinking but was coherent and grateful for the favor.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Why I Like Foreigners


“Do you take insurance?” asked a Biltmore guest after learning my fee. She was 26 years old and an American.

Hearing that she would have to pay up front and submit my invoice, she decided to wait. She was suffering an upset stomach which would probably clear up in a day. I gave advice and told her to feel free to call.

“Could I have your name and room number?” I asked before hanging up.

“Is that so you can charge me?” she asked.

“Phone calls are free,” I said. “I just need to keep a record.”  

An hour later she called to say she had changed her mind. Could I come?

Her vomiting had stopped but not her nausea and headache. After an exam, I gave her two packets of pills: one for nausea, one for the headache.

“How much are these?” she asked.

“Nothing.” I assured her that she was over the worst of her stomach virus.  

“So it’s a minor problem that will go away. You came, but you didn’t do much for me.”

I agreed that I hadn’t cured her but perhaps I had helped in other ways. I could have mentioned the convenience of a housecall and the medicines I handed over, my long drive to the hotel, and the fact that my fee is less than the going rate. None of this would have worked. I simply expressed satisfaction that she was improving and told her to phone if problems developed.

“And then you’ll come back and charge me again?” she asked.

I explained that I rarely make a second visit for the same problem, but I would try to help.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tempting the God of Housecalls


I was mildly entertained during 45 minutes of the new movie, Interstellar. The physics was wrong, and the politics of its dystopian future defied logic, but the production held my interest.

Then my phone buzzed for a housecall. Theaters will refund my money, but I don’t ask unless the movie has just begun. Admission is cheap compared to my housecall fee, and I can always return. Half the time, I’m happy to leave. When I attend a play or live performance, I ask a colleague to cover but never for a movie, although I sit on the aisle so I can hurry out and answer without disturbing the audience.

Doctors agree that patients call at the most inconvenient time, but I look forward to calls, so I try to persuade the fickle God of Housecalls that I don’t want to be interrupted. Going to a movie or restaurant or the dentist seems to accomplish this. If I have no plans for the afternoon, I may lay down for a nap even if I’m not tired. It’s my hope, often achieved, that the phone will ring as soon as I fall asleep.

I saw the final two hours of Interstellar a week later and remained mildly entertained. I won’t give anything away, but when a Hollywood movie features a conflict between science and love, only one outcome is possible.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Hotel Doctor's Thanksgiving


I had finished breakfast at 7 a.m. on Thursday when the phone rang. A Quantas pilot at the Hilton in Anaheim was suffering a respiratory infection. This was a great call in many ways.

That Hilton is forty miles away, but I don’t mind long drives provided traffic moves smoothly. Holiday mornings are a good time, and I could take the Santa Ana freeway which is two miles shorter than my usual route. I avoid the Santa Ana because it’s often jammed and in poor repair except for a tiresome five-mile stretch of construction. But it was fine at 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving.

Leaving the freeway, I drove past Disneyland where sidewalks overflowed with crowds streaming toward the entrance.

Unlike most patients with a respiratory infection, airline crew give priority to getting home, not to getting medicine. They hate being stuck in a hotel room, so I try to accommodate them.   

The drive home was easy. Unlike other clients, the airline agency requires a special form which I must fill out and fax to get paid. Happily, I checked boxes for “distance,” “after hours,” and “sat/sun/holiday,” all of which get me extra money. I have no objection to any of the three and actually prefer the last two because traffic is light. I’m perfect for this job.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I Was America's Leading Writer of Health Articles


I still hold the record for Woman’s Day – about 35 articles. I stopped as I reached middle-age in the 1990s in favor of my yearning to write literature. Don’t expect a plug for my fiction. It’s been published, but you have to look hard to find it.

Mass-market health articles deliver positive information that readers can use. Editors have no interest in controversy, muckraking, entertaining anecdotes, or the writer’s personal experience – the sort of material you find in this blog.

I knew this, but I sometimes broke the rules.

Here’s an example. Media doctors love to warn us of hidden dangers, ominous symptoms, and important information would make us healthier if we only knew about it.   

I wanted to do the opposite – tell readers of things they don’t need to worry about and things that are supposed to make them healthier but don’t.

Patients worry that a headache means their blood pressure is high, fatigue that their blood pressure is low, and that their fifth cold of the year is a sign of low immunity. This is not true.

Green mucus, yellow diarrhea, smelly urine, sharp chest pains, and white spots on tonsils rarely require urgent action and usually no action at all.

Healthy readers learn that they can become super-healthy. If they are doing everything right, they can do still better – eat certain nutrients, cultivate a positive attitude – and “boost” their immune system, slow the aging process built into our DNA, and prevent disease. It's equally true that a terrific life-style will reduce a nine month pregnancy to seven months.

Media doctors insist that will-power and a positive attitude cures disease. To heal, you must fervently want to heal. I call that the “be happy or die” approach.

Editors hated this.

“Readers look up to us. Why should we tell them that our other doctors are wrong?” they asked. 

“We never tell a reader not to worry,” they added. “If she follows your advice, and something bad happens, she will blame you. And us. And she will sue.” 

This article remains unpublished. It never came close.