Monday, February 27, 2017

Another Reason Doctor Oppenheim is not Rich

Plenty of patients have bad breath. They never tell me, and I never mention it because I have no solution better than mouthwash. If you want to know how to eliminate bad breath, google any media doctor. They all know. They’ve been delivering the same advice since I entered practiced forty years ago, and I haven’t noticed a decline in bad breath. On the other hand, they’re rich, and I’m not.

Perhaps a dozen times (mostly before I became a hotel doctor) patients announced that they had bad breath. I smelled. They never had it but were skeptical when I reassured them.

You have bad breath if someone else tells you. If you’re the only one who detects it, you have a delusion. Of course, since it’s a delusion, no one can change your mind.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The History of High Blood Pressure

For much of his presidency, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s blood pressure was high. His doctors knew but didn’t do much.

Doctors had been measuring blood pressure since the 19th century, but they considered it a vital sign – like pulse rate or respiration rate or temperature. They felt better if it was normal but didn’t believe that high pressure was a disease. Everyone knew (as everyone knows today) that stress makes your pressure go up, so avoiding stress was a good idea, but that’s hard for a president. His pressure was spectacularly high the day he died of a stroke in 1945 while relaxing in Georgia.

By the 1950s many doctors believed that high blood pressure was unhealthy. Doctors who act on their beliefs are no different from anyone else. They do a lot of dumb things. So not every doctor treated it.

Proving that high blood pressure kills requires observing thousands of people for years. By the 1960s it was proved. It seems a no-brainer that this means doctors should lower high blood pressure, but that doesn’t follow. After all, a rapid pulse or fever is often an ominous sign, but returning them to normal doesn’t accomplish much.

Proving that reducing high blood pressure saves lives requires observing thousands of people, treated and untreated, for years. By the time I entered medical school in 1968, this had been done, and we heard lectures urging us to treat high blood pressure vigorously.

This was not easy because the drugs available lowered many things beside blood pressure, so they made patients drowsy, dizzy, constipated, and impotent. But things have improved.  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Japanese Guest

A check of Google Maps revealed an ominous red line from my on-ramp to downtown, so I left twenty minutes early for what is usually a half hour drive. It wasn’t enough, and I arrived ten minutes late at the Miyako in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo.

It caters to Japanese, a big advantage when I see Japanese patients. Japanese businessmen sometimes speak English but Japanese tourists don’t, and these were tourists. I asked the desk clerk if she could provide an interpreter. Even in a Japanese-run hotel, most workers are Hispanic, and it may take half an hour to pry loose an employee, often a Japanese-American who speaks Japanese as well as I speak Hungarian, the language of my grandparents.

Luckily, as I waited, the tour leader appeared. His English was rudimentary but adequate. The guest had a fever but the major complaint was indigestion from strange American food.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I Need a Test

Asked how a doctor makes a diagnosis many would answer: “He does a test.”

This is actually uncommon. Experts agree that ninety percent of our diagnoses come from what you tell us.

Having spoken to the hotel guest over the phone, I’m certain of what’s going on when I drive off ninety percent of the time. Ten percent of the time, I’m not certain. Sometimes more talk or the exam gives me better information. Sometimes, almost always if the illness turns out to be worse than I thought, I send the guest off for a test, usually an X-ray.

I carry dipsticks that detect many substances in the urine. Once or twice in thirty years, I’ve discovered a new case of diabetes. I see guests with symptoms of a urine infection perhaps once a week. I always test their urine.

I then look thoughtfully at the test strip before announcing that the guest has a urine infection. In fact, 10-20 percent of the time the results are normal. No matter. If the guest describes symptoms of a urine infection, I make the diagnosis. Doctors often ignore tests, usually for a good reason.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Something Unforgivable

I sent a colleague to see a hotel guest perhaps thirty years ago. He didn’t carry a bag as well stocked as mine but took some drug samples from the office. He gave one out. Later the guest noticed that its expiration date was past. His anger, when he phoned me, remains a vivid memory.

Commercial prescription drugs are probably OK for years after they expire, but we don’t give them out. My bottle of nasal spray has an expiration date, and it’s pure salt water. When my aspirin expired, I kept it around.

My lawyer has tapped me on the shoulder and warned me to add that this is my personal opinion, that I have no special pharmaceutical expertise, and that you must never take an expired drug.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Keeping the Government Out of Our Hair

I was in Lexington, Kentucky, when a national agency asked me to make a housecall in Columbus, Ohio.

That’s a three hour drive, but I had free time; the guest’s problem was not urgent, and the agency pays generously. A day in Columbus with my wife might have been a treat (it has a terrific zoo). But I couldn’t go because I don’t have an Ohio license.     

I’m licensed in Kentucky ($150 a year) and California ($410 a year), but it’s illegal for me to practice in any other state. The same applies for dentists, lawyers, beauticians, accountants, athletic trainers, and teachers. Some states license interior decorators.

As the recent election demonstrated, keeping the federal government out of our personal business is critical, so we can expect that local officials will take on more responsibility.

Many Americans are disturbed that not only Washington but FOREIGN COUNTRIES determine safety standards for airlines and pilots. Dozens of huge planes fly over our heads every day, yet local officials are helpless to determine if their pilots are qualified. The new administration may return this responsibility to where it belongs. In the future, woe to the pilot who flies his plane over a state where he is not licensed.

Friday, February 3, 2017

A Doctor Who Serves the Poor

People ask if I worry when I make a housecall in a bad neighborhood.

I may worry about my car, but an elderly white man in a suit carrying a doctor’s bag is such a bizarre sight that the average ruffian can only stare in amazement. In any case, everyone assumes that I’m on a mission of mercy, so they’re helpful. Access to apartment buildings is easier than usual because the door locks are broken.

Why don’t people ask if I worry when I make a housecall at the beach? That’s the real nightmare!! Especially during the summer, parking is impossible. Beach apartments are often not on an actual street, so it’s hard to pin down their location on foot. GPS is often vague. Patients are usually not permanent residents, so they can’t help.

I’ll take the ghetto any time.