Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A guest at a Beverly Hills hotel was sitting in the hotel restaurant when her chair collapsed. Unfortunately, her hand was resting underneath. The desk clerk asked if I could come immediately.

During my early years, I often hurried over, took care of the problem, and presented my bill only to have the guest insist that the hotel was responsible. Management sometimes disagreed, leaving me unpaid, so I quickly learned to settle matters over the phone.

“Who’s responsible for the bill?” I asked. “If it’s the guest, I have to talk to her.”

The clerk hadn’t thought of this, so she put me on hold, returning to announce that the hotel would take care of it. This would be my 139th medicolegal visit, my name for a housecall when the hotel pays. The majority involve minor injuries that occur on the premises. There were also thirteen upset stomachs, purportedly from hotel food, and nine insect bites, always bedbugs according to the guest.

I arrived at the restaurant to greet a pleasant young Englishwoman, her hand in a bowl of ice. My examination revealed a torn and bloody middle fingernail but no laceration that required suturing. I explained that her nail might fall off but that another would grow. Unfortunately her ring finger, while not bloody, was exquisitely painful. She needed an x-ray.

If there were a fracture, an emergency room or perhaps even a family doctor would refer her to an orthopedist, so I decided to send her directly. If someone needs a referral, I want to make sure that they go, so I make the appointment myself. I didn’t know anyone locally, so I found an orthopedic group on the internet and phoned. When the receptionist asked about insurance, I said she would be a cash patient, a rare phenomenon even in Beverly Hills.

“An initial visit is $500,” the receptionist said. “She should have it when she comes in.”

“Wow!” said the patient when I passed this on. This was probably not a comment on the size of the fee (which the hotel would pay) but the traditional European amazement-cum-horror at American doctors’ preoccupation with money.

Both fingertips were fractured, she announced over the phone the next day before asking how long the pain would last. I sympathized; fingers are sensitive. She should apply ice and take ibuprofen and see her doctor in a few days. She planned to fly home.

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