Thursday, June 30, 2011

In rudimentary English, a guest from Checkers, an upscale downtown hotel, explained that his rash needed attention.

“I’ll be there within the hour,” I said, and quoted the fee. He replied with a phrase that makes a hotel doctor’s heart sink.

“I have insurance.”

From an American, this means the visit is no-go. I work alone, and collecting from American carriers requires either a trained billing clerk or far more patience and self-control than I possess. Mostly I refer these guests to a local walk-in clinic.

Foreign travel insurers are better. I send a bill, and (unlike American insurers) they always send a check for the identical amount. I asked the name of his insurer. It was Assistcard, an agency that’s called since the 90s.

The proper step was to ask the guest to phone Assistcard who would check his eligibility, approve the visit, and phone me. This never happens quickly, but it’s rarely a problem because 95 percent of travelers call their insurance first, so I don’t hear about the visit until it’s approved. This guest had mistakenly called me. To speed up matters, I told him I would call.

After listening to my explanation, the Assistcard dispatcher said she would call the guest, confirm his coverage, and call back. To pass time, I booted up my copy of Sim City. This worked too well; after 45 minutes of wrestling with urban problems I realized the phone had remained silent. Calling, I discovered that my dispatcher had vanished, perhaps to lunch. After putting me on hold, another dispatcher assured me that the wheels were turning. I phoned the guest to make sure he hadn’t wandered off only to learn that no one had called and that his tour was leaving in two hours. I called the dispatcher who explained that the guest was Indonesian, and he was in Argentina, so approval might take a while.

Once the guest left for his tour, the visit would evaporate, so, after waiting another half hour, I decided to drive down and take my chances. My phone rang while I was on the freeway. The dispatcher informed me that no one could find the guest’s proof of insurance, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t turn up. Learning I was on the road, he offered to call the guest and suggest he pay me directly and try to claim reimbursement. That rarely works, but it worked this time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

“Woody Allen needs a doctor. How quickly can you get here?” The caller was the concierge from the J.W. Marriott. This happened almost twenty years ago.

“Ten minutes,” I replied. The J.W. Marriott was in Century City, near Beverly Hills, a five minute drive. I had only to change into my suit and grab my bag.

“I don’t know….” She seemed doubtful. “I guess you should come.”

That was strange. How many doctors appear at your door ten minutes after you call…? I threw on my suit and raced to my car. Nearing the hotel revealed a sight that always makes my heart sink: a paramedic ambulance. The odds that a second guest had fallen ill were tiny, so the arrival of paramedics meant my visit was in vain.

“He couldn’t wait,” the concierge called out as I hurried past. There was still a chance. Most 911 calls are not emergencies, and paramedics sometimes declined to transport those. Sadly, they were burned in several well-publicized cases when someone died after they left. Thereafter, their refusal rate plummeted, but I never lost hope.

Leaving the elevator, I had no trouble finding the room because paramedics attract a crowd. It parted as I approached, and I caught a fleeting glimpse of Woody Allen as paramedics rolled him past on a gurney. I returned home. According to the news, he was back in circulation the next day.

My experience with actors is that their day-to-day personality carries over to the screen, so I theorized that Woody Allen had suffered a panic attack. Agitated guests frighten hotel employees, so they’re quick to call paramedics, but if they have the sense to think of me, their problem vanishes. I have a soothing manner, a white beard and white hair (they weren’t so white back in 1993). Once I arrive and settle into a chair, I rarely fail to calm a panicky guest. Phoned in the middle of the night, I do the same without getting out of bed. Woody Allen should have waited for me.

I can name Woody Allen because I was never his doctor, but, sadly, celebrity patients are off limits. Most were nice, but over thirty years, I’ve cared for a number of misbehaving luminaries including several who died under dramatic circumstances. The curious assure me that “you can’t libel the dead,” but the dead’s loved ones have been known to sue after unflattering remarks.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I broke my distance record last week, driving 94 miles to care for a man with a sore throat.

I’ve found it good business not to refuse distant visits. It’s hard arrange a housecall on short notice, so housecall agencies and travel insurers keep a list of doctors for every area. But humans are creatures of habit, and once a dispatcher learns that calling me always gets the housecall, they continue to call. Ignored, other doctors drift away, and I become the only one available. As long as I don’t refuse too often, they don’t bestir themselves to refresh the list.

I quoted a fee that took into account the long drive, pointing out that it would be cheaper to send the patient to a local clinic. This sometimes gets me off the hook, but it didn’t in this case, so I drove to Santa Barbara. That’s where I served my internship long ago in 1972-73, and the hotel turned out to be three blocks from my former apartment. It was not there forty years ago, and the area has become unrecognizable, so I felt no nostalgia. I saw the patient, stretched my legs, and drove home.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Old time doctors endured blizzards on horseback or midnight summons to distant farms, but some modern healers share their suffering.

The phone woke me at 11: 30. International Assistance, a travel insurer, asked me to visit a downtown hotel where an Argentinean lady was suffering an allergic reaction. This was not bad news; downtown is not too far, I charge extra for calls that get me out of bed, freeway traffic is light, and I can sleep late. I wrote down the information and dressed.

Some travel insurers pay reliably, but International Assistance is not among them, so I had long since demanded their credit card number. Before leaving, I phoned the credit card computer, entered data to collect my fee, and heard the computer voice deny approval. After laboriously re-entering the data and receiving the same response, I phoned International Assistance and waited patiently while the dispatcher scrambled to turn up another credit card.

Traffic was minimal, but as I approached the freeway interchange leading to downtown, a long line of traffic cones forced me to the outside lane. The ramp heading north was closed. The highway department schedules inconvenient maintenance for the wee hours, and I occasionally encounter delays. No problem, I thought. I continued on to the next exit and re-entered the freeway to retrace my route. Cones quickly appeared, so the other north ramp was also blocked. By the time I learned this, I was forced onto the freeway heading south. Again I left at the first exit only to discover no on-ramp in the opposite direction. Fortunately, there was Figueroa, the main street through downtown, so I decided to follow it. That turned out to be everyone’s idea, so I joined a gridlock that crept north.

I apologized profusely after arriving an hour late, and the patient was too polite to express skepticism that heavy traffic at one a.m. was responsible.