Friday, March 30, 2012

Avoiding the Rush Hour

A guest with a respiratory infection was staying in a Whittier hotel, thirty miles away. The call arrived at 5:00. Driving sixty miles in rush hour traffic is an experience I prefer to avoid if the problem isn’t urgent. I told the insurance dispatcher I would arrive between 8 and 9.

Usually I explain that “I won’t get out of the office till 7.” That’s an excuse patients usually accept. This time I slipped up and merely explained that I didn’t want to get caught in the rush hour. This is less acceptable and, sure enough, the patient cancelled in favor of going to an emergency room. I felt bad, but that turned out to save me from a difficult evening.

At 6 o’clock, a guest in West Hollywood announced that he was having a gout attack. The rush hour was in full swing, but West Hollywood is only five miles away. Before I walked out the door, the phone rang again, and I agreed to see a Swede suffering flu symptoms at the Sheraton in Santa Monica. The Sheraton is ten miles from West Hollywood and not a convenient drive, but I hoped traffic would have diminished.

Gout is an easy visit, and I carry the treatment, so the visit ended happily for everyone. After a passable drive, I arrived at the Sheraton where I answered a call from the Hong Kong office of Cathay-Pacific Airlines. I care for their crew in Los Angeles, and they are a joy to work with. Being young, they suffer simple ailments; all are Asian but speak good English; best of all, every request comes with a credit card number, so I don’t have to send a bill. A mild downside is that every visit also comes with a sheaf of documents evaluating the employee’s fitness to work.

After caring for the Swede’s flu, I drove ten miles to the Airport Hilton to treat a flight attendant’s sore leg and fill out paperwork. I arrived home at 10:30, weary but pleased at the night’s work. No sooner had I taken my phone off call-forwarding than it rang with news that an elderly lady at a Sunset Strip hotel was ill. Not everyone who wants a doctor needs a doctor, and I often convince guests that a visit isn’t necessary. I yearned to do that in this case, but she was vomiting, not a symptom patients can tolerate.

In the room, I was prepared to diagnose a routine stomach virus until I pulled back the covers and saw her swollen abdomen.

“Is this how your stomach usually looks?” I asked.

She denied it. She also had more pain than I expected, and I heard loud intestinal noises through my stethoscope. It seemed like a bowel obstruction, I explained. She needed to go to the hospital. Immediately she reconsidered my question, remembering that she was constipated, a condition that often made her abdomen swell.

Hearing they must go to the hospital, guests often work hard to change my mind, but I persisted. She went off in an ambulance, and I left hoping I’d made the right decision (doctors worry about these things). I phoned the next day to learn she had been admitted to Cedars-Sinai where she remained several days.

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