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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

No Easy Way to Hollywood

There is no quick drive to Hollywood. I can take the freeway north through the San Fernando Valley, a twenty mile trip. Or I can take it east through downtown for nineteen miles. A direct route is eight miles, but that’s tedious stop-and-go on city streets. Taking the long way doesn’t mean an easy drive because the freeway is often but unpredictably jammed.

When Loews in Hollywood called at 11 p.m. my heart sank less than usual. It was late enough for most drivers to be in bed.

But not quite late enough. The male fun fair in West Hollywood was in full swing, filling the streets.   

Loews in Santa Monica calls me exclusively, but the Hollywood Loews keeps a list of doctors, thus assuring that none of us will lean over backward to accommodate it by, for example, coming during the rush hour (no hotel doctor lives near Hollywood).

My immediate problem in a nonexclusive hotel is that parking valets may not recognize me, so my mantra:  “I’m the hotel doctor. They let me park here” might not work, and I would have to pay. But it worked this time.

As usual, delivering medical care was the easiest part. A perk of hotel doctoring is that I go home after seeing a single guest. During my best months, I go home a hundred times.

I like my job, but going home always feels better than going to work. I played my audio tape. I looked benignly on the midnight revelers as I crept through West Hollywood. Beverly Hills and Century City were nearly deserted, but traffic lights ensured that I would not make haste.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ever Hopeful

I made a housecall to the Four Seasons recently. Years ago, I shared the Four Seasons elevator with Robert Duvall. He was reading a script, and I pretended not to notice.

I’ve responded to half a dozen calls from that hotel over thirty years, but this was not one. Assistcard, a travel insurer, had sent me to see an 18 month-old with a cold. I took care of the child and left without introducing myself to the concierge.

The Four Season’s house doctor is the only colleague who has been around longer than I, and he serves half a dozen premier luxury hotels around Beverly Hills. In the distant past I covered for him when he wasn’t available. My records show 45 visits to the Four Seasons and several hundred to his other hotels. I loved those calls.

I retired in 2003 and unretired in 2007. During my absence he found someone else to help out. While he welcomed me back, I’m no longer his main support, but he phones at rare intervals.

When insurance services send me to hotels that don’t call, I remind the staff of my superior qualities. This has proved an excellent source of new clients but, ever hopeful, I don’t solicit this doctor’s hotels.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Another Year


A wave of heat poured out of the guest’s room as he opened the door.

“Another year has passed,” I reminded myself. May 13 marked Los Angeles’s first heat wave of 2013. The temperature reached 91. Since autumn I’d forgotten that people around the world, Arabs excepted, consider air conditioning unhealthy. They tolerate it as one of the exotic discomforts of travel but not when someone gets sick.

This is not a belief amenable to reason, so I go about my business, sweltering in my suit and tie. I rarely take off my jacket because I keep tools (thermometer, tongue depressor, flashlight, otoscope, syringes, prescription pad) in various pockets. Sometimes medicine is hard.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bizarre Encounters

"This is the Westin at the airport, Doctor Oppenheim. A guest has cut off his ear and would like to see a doctor.”

“I can’t sew an ear back in a hotel room,” I explained. “You should send him to the Centinella E.R.” This seemed to satisfy him, and he hung up.

This call arrived at 1:05 a.m. After some nervous minutes hoping he wouldn’t call again, I went back to sleep.

In fiction, the doctor would make the housecall and have a bizarre encounter. Bizarre encounters are more fun to read about than experience, so I work hard to avoid them. Before agreeing to a visit, I talk to the guest, so I can detect drunks, drug abusers, and the mentally ill. Medical science has no antidote for alcohol and, despite what you see in the movies, no injection will pacify a disruptive crazy person. I regularly assure hotel employees that it’s OK to call the police when a guest is out of control. Violent behavior isn’t necessary. 

Now and then I answer a sad call after a tragedy such as the death of a spouse or child. Relatives regularly beg for something to “put her to sleep,” but (again, despite the movies) no such drug exists. A general anesthetic works, but it’s risky to use one in a housecall as Michael Jackson’s doctor learned. I respond to these calls and usually hand over a tranquilizer, but mostly I sit at the bedside listening and delivering sympathy.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Laying Over

In the old days, airlines called me directly to care for crew laying over in Los Angeles. I enjoyed those visits because patients are mostly young and rarely seriously ill.

Since then they have given responsibility to an independent agency which contracts with a national housecall service. The housecall service, needless to say, calls me. I collect the same fee, but it costs the airlines triple what they once paid. I am too old to question their logic.

Hotels compete to put up crew, offering discounts. Always searching for a better deal, airlines often change places. Long ago they stuck to lodgings near the airport eight miles away. In another mysterious deterioration from former times, crew now mostly lay over at wildly distant hotels. 

During my latest visit, I traveled to the Long Beach Hilton, thirty-five miles away, to care for a Virgin-Australia flight attendant with an earache. As usual, delivering care was the easiest part. Afterward I filled out a form required by the housecall service plus another form from the airline containing many identical questions followed by another airline form to determine when the flight attendant could work or return home as a passenger.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Youth Hostel

I answered a call from a woman at a youth hostel suffering stomach virus.

Wearing a bathrobe and looking off-color, she met me in the lobby. I followed her through a large, open-air restaurant which, although it was midnight, echoed with chatter from a youthful clientele.

She opened a door into one of the dormitories, half a dozen connected rooms crammed with bunk beds. There were no chairs, tables, or dressers, and the communal bathroom was off a distant room. Clothes and luggage littered the floor. The only difference from a male dormitory was absence of the smell of unwashed bodies.

Most beds were occupied; the inhabitants stirred when we turned on the light but did not complain. Since the patient slept in an upper bunk, I had to perform my examination while she lay on the floor, but one occupant moved aside so she could lean over for an injection.