Friday, May 29, 2009

Why Doctor Oppenheim Isn't Rich

Being a fulltime hotel doctor isn’t fulltime work, so I have plenty to leisure during which I’ve become a successful writer. I’ve written five popular health books plus several hundred magazine articles – 35 for Woman’s Day, for example, more than any other doctor. So why haven’t you heard of me? More important, why aren’t I rich? Part of the answer is that I’m not a media personality. Doctors who write make big money only if they appear on TV and radio regularly. I did this a few times long ago and hated it.

But I still hope. I wrote a novel about a hotel doctor. Fiction is a hard sell, and it’s still making the rounds. Everyone who learns I work in Los Angeles insists my memoirs would be a gold mine. So I wrote memoirs. Every time I contact an agent, he or she is thrilled.

“That sounds like a great book. I bet you’ve seen plenty of celebrities.”
“So I have.”
“I bet you have great stories about them.”
“I do.”
“Tell me one.”
“I’m a doctor. I can’t do that.”

That ends the conversation. Agencies are still considering “Hotel Doctor to the Stars,” but my inability to include celebrity scandal seems to be a deal killer.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Freebie

“This is Franklin De Forest. We’re staying at the Hilton. I wonder if you could help us.” There was a pause although the caller hadn’t asked a question. His voice quavered, so I knew he was elderly. American guests over sixty-five were awkward because Medicare paid a pittance for housecalls and forbade doctors from collecting the difference from the patient. I tried to avoid Medicare housecalls. Knowing the reason, many guests offered to paying the fee directly, promising not to send the bill on the Medicare. I think this is also illegal.

I heard muffled sounds, and then a female voice came on the line. Elderly men invariably handed the phone to their wives. “We just flew in from Chicago, and we leave for Tahiti in three hours. I feel so stupid... We went off without our medicine. Is there any way you could see us and write some prescriptions?”

Tourists regularly forgot their pills or lost them or packed them in luggage that disappeared. Authorities discourage doctors from prescribing without a thorough evaluation. Housecall agencies virtuously explained this, then sent a doctor who wrote prescriptions for heart pills, cholesterol pills, diabetes pills et al, then collected a few hundred dollars. I could not bring myself to charge for writing prescriptions.

“If they’re medications you take regularly, I’ll phone a pharmacy, and tell them to give you some more.”
“That’s so nice. My husband takes Lanoxin.”
“And what dose?”
“What dose, Frank…? He says the usual.”
“Point two five milligrams?”
“Point two five milligrams, Frank…? He says that’s probably right.”
“How many do you want?”
“Just enough till we get back.” The woman paused either to calculate or simply because she felt I was psychic. I repeated the question. “Say fifteen. He also needs Glyburide for his diabetes.”
“What’s the milligrams?”
“What milligrams, Frank…? He’s not sure, but it’s a little green pill.”

The man required three prescriptions, his wife four. Their recollections of dose and dosing schedule were vague. I determined several by consulting the Physician’s Desk Reference, but details of the wife’s “for my stomach” pill remained a puzzle, so I chose one that seemed harmless. I compromised on two other uncertainties by prescribing the lowest dose. The elderly take so many medicines there’s a good chance many are unnecessary. The call took fifteen minutes.

“We’re so grateful for your help, doctor. How can we pay?”
“No charge. But I’d like you to tell the manager how nice I was. This is a competitive business.”
The woman laughed. “I’ll do it first thing.”

Asked about payment after providing phone help, I always refused, then suggested the guest praise me to the hotel staff, and the guest always treated it as a joke. It was a joke, mostly, but I hoped a few would obey.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Treating Drunks

Medical science has no cure for drunkenness, but hotels regularly phone for help. I always ask if the guest wants a doctor. The answer is never yes and always followed by assurance that the hotel would pay my fee. A doctor is not supposed to care for someone who doesn’t want a doctor, but when a hotel appeals for help I do not like to refuse. Suggesting calling the police never works because (like calling paramedics) their arrival ruffles the businesslike atmosphere hotels prefer. Also, arrested guests rarely turn into repeat customers.

Confronting drunks, I enjoy certain advantages. I’m old. conservatively dressed in a suit and tie, and obviously a physician. These qualities inhibit abuse, but they work best in people who think rationally. Drunks are not impervious to my charisma, but they’re unpredictable. Obstreperous drunks nurse a grievance against someone: the staff, a lover, or life in general. Providing an attentive audience helps, so I try to get them talking. Success gives me a sense of accomplishment after the fact but no pleasure at the time. Drunks are boring.

To illustrate, an executive staying at a downtown hotel learned he had been fired. After drinking too much, he phoned his boss to discuss the matter only to learn the boss was also in Los Angeles. Efforts to get a room number from the front desk failed, probably because his boss was in a different hotel. Drunks do not discourage easily; his increasingly loud appearances at the front desk made the staff nervous, so they consulted me.

Drunks obsess about their grievances because no one wants to listen, so they cheer up when someone expresses interest. He followed me to a quiet corner of the lobby, and I composed myself to look attentive as he explained that his dismissal was inexplicable and possibly an error because his last performance review had been entirely positive. Having a copy in his possession, he read the review to me. I agreed it was flattering. He reread it aloud and then asked why a company would dismiss someone it clearly valued. I agreed this sounded unreasonable. Then I made the usual mistake of those speaking to the deranged and asked a logical question: what might have happened since the review to upset his superiors.

Consulting the review, he decided to read it to me again. Suddenly there was silence. The lobby was deserted. A housekeeper was operating a vacuum cleaner at the far end; the drunk gentleman lay back in his chair, snoring. I had fallen asleep, too. Feeling pleased at a tedious job well-done, I proceeded to the front desk for gratitude and payment. Unfortunately, at that time the Marriott was not a regular client where everyone knew me. During the change of shift, the day manager had mentioned calling a doctor to deal with a drunk but failed to add that the hotel had agreed to pay, so the night manager told me to take up the matter during the day.