October 17, 2019

Doctor, please treat me like a dog

They'd only just arrived from London a few days earlier — my daughter, Alison, and Sophia, her emotional support pet. Named in honor of Alison's deceased best friend, Sophia is an adorable Maltese, almost three. But everyone still refers to her as “the puppy” because that's how she looks and, well, behaves.

We were taking Sophia to the vet for her first American check-up in two years. (The last time was when she'd been cleared for travel abroad.) And although our vet's offices had moved across the road to a larger and more modern location, everything else remained thankfully unchanged.

DPC Veterinary Clinic of Davie, Florida, has been our veterinarian of choice for over a decade — ever since Alison befriended the owner's daughter in her sixth grade Montessori class. She'd riddled the girl with so many cat-care questions at the time that I finally succumbed to her pleas and, on the day after Thanksgiving, we adopted a kitty from the Humane Society.

Having her friend's home phone number on a class list ended up saving Greywinkle's life a few weeks later. When the obviously sick and congested young kitten refused to eat, I called her friend's mom, the vet, late on a Saturday night for advice. (“Tempt her with really stinky, cheap canned cat food,” she'd said.) This was followed by a couple of months' dosing of immune-system-building medicine that left the cat so hardy, she hasn't been sick a day since. At age 12, our senior feline remains the healthiest member of the family.

So now we were returning to DPC with Alison's beloved dog. As is the case with many a South Florida business, employees come and go. Nonetheless, just like in the old days, I was able to secure a Next-Day-Appointment with ease. And everyone I dealt with — from receptionist to nail clipper — was as personable and competent as ever.

We ended up seeing their newest vet on staff — a gem of a professional I'd like to clone for every doctors' office everywhere. She entered with a bright smile, confidently introducing herself to us and the dog. Then she gently cradled Sophia and rubbed her tummy, all the while murmuring assurances in a soothing voice. She didn't rush her patient, but made sure she was comfortable and calm before even attempting to take her temperature. She went on to explain, in detail, each check-up procedure that was about to occur.

Perhaps the words themselves were for our benefit, but her tone and demeanor were just right for our pet. While checking her heart rate and throughout the exam, she never once surprised the animal with an unexpected poke or action. Everything she did was calmly introduced beforehand, then administered with soothing tones as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Would that my dermatologist had been half as considerate before blasting my face with liquid nitrogen to freeze off a suspicious mole. Like the victim of an unprovoked and unexpected attack, I yelped in pain and nearly jumped off the exam table. Her careless approach in treating a trusting, vulnerable patient caused needless anxiety and hurt.

I am still receiving bills for a cryospray procedure that no one had bothered to explain to me beforehand or to ask for my consent. Why spend a few extra minutes to educate and reassure the patient before you when assembly-line-like numbers await your presence behind doors number 1, 2 and 3? All I can do in protest is refuse to pay.

But my dispute with my dermatologist is nothing compared to my daughter's horrendous experience at the hands of medical professionals a week after her arrival. Her nightmare began when, at the advice of a new therapist, we went seeking controlled-substance prescription refills at a psychiatric emergency room.

Obamacare may have granted access to doctors for a lot more people, but no one seems to have considered what happens when thousands of new patients suddenly descend upon a limited number of local providers. Who will complain about being treated “like a number” when it's like winning the lottery when you're finally allowed onto the factory floor?

My 24-year-old daughter is intelligent, talented, attractive, but also excessively sensitive and affected by the lives of those she cares deeply about. She's experienced an inordinate amount of trauma over the past few years and suffers from depression, anxiety disorder and PTSD, among other mental health conditions.

While continuing her studies at university in London Alison fell ill and, only after months of pain, was correctly diagnosed, and treated, for a kidney infection. Much weakened and barely tipping the scale at 70 pounds, we all decided it would be best if she came home to recuperate as soon as possible. The pup was shipped off first and, a few days later, Alison followed, carrying UK pharmaceutical prescriptions that would only last two weeks.

We suddenly needed to find a local psychiatrist who could continue with her treatment and, most importantly, avert the pain and danger of abrupt withdrawal. I began the search by calling everyone on my health care plan (I was happy to pay full price till she'd be added the following month), but to no avail. Even my husband's psychiatrist of several years wasn't taking on new patients, not even family members.

Next I tried every listed psychiatric office within driving distance. I was willing to pay out-of-pocket — $200, $400 (and that outrageous latter amount was what many were asking) — but even the few practices that were still accepting new patients were booked months in advance. In short, I couldn't find a psychiatrist for love or money. So after fruitless inquiries and with time running out, we set off to what I felt was our only remaining option: the therapist-advocated University Hospital emergency room where I hoped to procure the necessary medication and, finally, gain access to a “Pdoc” as well.

After circling the hospital's campus several times (for “emergency” access, this psychiatric facility is seriously hidden), we found the entrance and Alison registered with their computer check-in system. We then sat in a small, drab, waiting area till Alison's number came up. Abruptly, she was hauled off to a locked facility and I wasn't allowed to follow. There was no explanation for this and after a lengthy wait, and much complaining on my part, I was finally given permission to see my daughter (after the equivalent of a body search and lockup of my pocketbook and personal items).

I found her huddled in a corner of a large freezing room where a scattering of other unhappy patients all sat out in the open. Dressed in a flimsy oversized hospital gown, she sat scrunched up on a hard chair, shivering and sobbing uncontrollably. When she'd left the waiting room, Alison had been somewhat anxious but totally lucid and functional. An hour later, my daughter had been reduced to a desperate, angry and emotionally brutalized mess.

Here's what I learned had happened during her “intake” interview. First thing, her pocketbook had been snatched away without explanation, despite her pleas that she needed it with her at all times. She thought it had been stolen and could barely respond when next subjected to a barrage of invasive personal questions.

This rough handling on the part of hospital staff and their refusal to address her pleas set off an episode of hysterical crying, anxiety and, finally, a full-blown panic attack — the very symptoms we'd been trying to avert. When I was finally allowed to visit, she tearfully explained that she couldn't lose her handbag as it held her most treasured possession: a memorial photo of her British best friend who'd committed suicide some two years earlier. The crushing loss of this soul mate (she describes her as “my twin self”) had been a major trigger in her ensuing depression. Rather than help alleviate her psychic pain, the harsh and inhumane treatment by medical “professionals” at University Hospital had only served to make her condition worse.

I tried to explain to anyone who would listen that all we really needed were prescriptions for antidepressants and something for anxiety, and I could take her home. But apparently after her bag had been snatched away and Alison was at her most anxious and vulnerable, a doctor observing from behind a glass window had seen fit to diagnose her as being “at risk to herself.” I wasn't allowed to speak to this doctor or even learn his name. It was only much later, after I'd calmed my daughter down and another counselor proceeded to interview her at length, needlessly forcing her to rehash her painful past, that I learned her fate had already been sealed from the start.

Alison cooperated fully in this interview session, sharing her past traumatic experiences for no therapeutic end — as ultimately she wasn't referred to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or even the group sessions advocated by her therapist and promoted on the hospital's website. It was an unnecessary additional emotional brutalization and invasion of her  privacy. (Of course this didn't stop emergency room staff from “doing their job” of further traumatizing their patient, all the while making sure to properly code their efforts so she could be charged a hefty bill some months later. Which I, naturally, once again refuse to pay.)

It was only after hours of this ongoing agony that we learned Alison had been Baker-Acted soon after her arrival. I was sent on my way and she was left to wait another six hours in the cold room till an ambulance arrived to transport her to Fort Lauderdale Hospital, where we were assured she would finally receive her now severely overdue doses of prescribed medication. The way she was treated felt worse than being arrested as I wasn't allowed to accompany her or even visit. For my own sanity, it's a good thing I didn't know at the time that area psychiatrists consider this particular public mental-health facility a modern-day “Cuckoo’s Nest.”

I still consider it a miracle that my theatrical daughter was able to convince the doctors there of her sanity four days later. She also had the wherewithal to strengthen her case for release by claiming she would be returning to the care of her “regular psychiatrist.” (For this, she used the name of an MD provided by one of her roommates — luckily sympathetic older women who looked after their too young, too pretty and certainly too vulnerable cell mate who was appropriately terrified at being locked up among hardened criminals and drug addicts.)

Alison was released with way too many, unnecessarily potent prescriptions (patients were regularly overmedicated to keep them quiet) and I quickly tapered her off of the most scary pharmaceuticals, seeing no need to begin new addictions. Of course, we still needed access to a decent prescribing psychiatrist. How we finally achieved that goal, and what we did in the interim, will remain a skewed story for another day.

I picked my daughter up from Fort Lauderdale Hospital far more traumatized than when she'd entered (more so even than after the University Hospital fiasco where she'd initially sought help). She was in physical pain as well: banged up and bruised from when a crazed flakka addict had picked her up and slammed her against a wall. But as I'd already lined up a lawyer to secure her release, I was simply glad to see her come out alive and in one piece.

I shudder to think of how easily she might have been raped or even killed within the confines of this archaic insane asylum, unobtrusively located on tony Las Olas Boulevard. And I can't help but reflect on the contrast between how many medical practitioners treat animals versus the way they treat sick and vulnerable human beings. If only more doctors would take a few pointers from the veterinarians' handbook and address their patients with an ounce of the patience, sympathy and respect regularly afforded their dogs!

© 2016 Mindy Leaf

Follow Mindy's essays of biting social commentary at: “>https://askmamaglass.wordpress.com