Where's Dr. Waldo? When The Doc Goes M.I.A.

Finding as doctor is difficult. Finding a doctor you like is even more difficult. Finding a doctor you like who also takes your insurance is near impossible. Like finding a 4-leaf clover. During winter. On top of a unicorn. Named Fabrizio. It’s exceedingly rare! When you do find him or her, though, you hold on for dear life. The thing is, what do you do when your amazing unicorn doctor named Fabrizio stops returning your communiques?

This happened to me recently. One of my favorite doctors in this soccer-team of physicians I call my “cancer care Mongooses” (the Mongooses are a cool sports team name. Or is it Mongeese?) suddenly and inexplicably fell off the map. Let’s call him Dr. Waldo, and if you don’t know why I’m using that name then I’m going to go cry in the bathroom because I’m officially old.

My favorite doctor so far

It happened so suddenly! This was a doctor who I would tell people is my, “favorite doctor by far.” Sorry other doctors, you guys and gals are great, but someone has to be the front runner, and Dr. Waldo was just that – a friend, a confidant, a pal, and, oh, also, a great physician to boot. Before COVID, when I and the rest of the cancer world would actually go to see our doctors in real life, I’d never mind the trip into the city because my appointments with Dr. Waldo were more like kvetching with a friend than visiting an antiseptic clinician. Also, I got my once-a-month pastrami sandwich from Katz’s on the way home, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with it. It was enjoyable - so juicy, so soft, not too salty - and the sandwich was great too!

Fast forward to two weeks ago, I was my happy-go-lucky self, just puttering around the house as most of us have done for the last year or so due to COVID and I got a call from the pharmacracy. Normally a patient might worry with a call from their pharmacist, but it’s frustratingly commonplace for me. My local druggist (I won’t say who it is, but it rhymes with VCS) calls me more than an ex-wife looking for alimony. 8 am Sunday morning cell phone rings? It’s the pharmacy with an “automated call” telling me my script is ready for pickup. Great. I always have it delivered anyway. Text message at 11 pm Tuesday night? Pharmacy again, telling me they’ve successfully obtained a refill from my doctor. At this point, the only thing left is for them to show up as my date to that wedding I invited them to six months before we broke up. Needless to say, I wasn’t concerned when I saw the caller ID – but I should have been. Apparently, the pharmacy couldn’t get in touch with Dr. Waldo for a needed medication, so, now, I was officially on the case.

Still no communication from Dr. Waldo

I first e-mailed the doctor, my usual mode of contact, and waited for a response. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, after a day or two, I decided to escalate the issue to level two – a phone call. Now, I’m not sure if any of you have ever called a doctor’s office at a hospital but trying to get connected to the right place is like playing sudoku with disappearing ink. “AGENT!” I told the phone robot. That didn’t work. “DOCTOR WALDO” I told the phone robot, who asked, “You want to speak to Dr. Smalldon?” After that I just kept spamming the “0” key until someone in the mailroom at the coffee stand picked up and kindly transferred me to Dr. Waldo’s office. Unfortunately, that was only step one. Anyone who has watched my videos knows that every office has a “gatekeeper” whose job it is to keep the doctor blissfully unaware and unannoyed. I told her that I needed to talk to the doctor because I was going to be out of medication shortly, and by shortly I mean, “ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.” She said she’d give him the message.

Three days later, more emails and calls and no return communication, and I was starting to worry that something had happened to Dr. Waldo. This was so unlike him and something I’d never thought I’d have to deal with from this particular physician. I really began to wonder if there had been a tragic llama accident and Dr. Waldo was stranded in the Chilean Andes. Unfortunately, now I had a difficult decision to make – do I turn into “that annoying patient,” you know, the one we all hate to become? Or do I, well, I guess die? I mean, without meds, it won’t be pretty...

The squeaky wheel

If we can sidebar for a second, this is something I think many of us struggle with – our responsibilities and our disposition as a patient. I think most of us understand that whether you are an inpatient or an outpatient that yes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but also, IT’S A SQUEAKY WHEEL. Nobody wants to be squeaky anything except clean, and even then, there are times when not even that (keeping it PG). Not to mention most of us long-term patients know that sure, the squeaky wheel routine works once or twice but after that you’ll suddenly find your physician is frequently “unavailable,” or “at a conference,” or “lost at sea.” All of us would much rather have a trusting, friendly, give-and-take relationship with our physicians, and that means knowing when and when not to push.

Well, I guess I pushed because, at this point, I’m at my seventh e-mail and fourth phone call, and still no response. It’s been a week and I’m cutting my pills into quarters. If I don’t hear back soon, I’m going to have to start looking for a new doctor so hopefully, by the time you read this, I’ll have heard from Dr. Waldo. I mean, it’s not like I can just open a book and magically find him in his funny red-striped shirt. Talk soon.

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