“My doctor gave me six months to live. When I couldn’t pay my bills he gave me another six months!” Old vaudeville joke.
When we found out that there was a strong possibility that we would be able to adopt, we had about three weeks to get our life in order. We had to figure how to turn our office/guest room into a baby’s nursery, we had to wade through our employer’s maze of red tape trying to get the right forms signed by the right people for our parental leaves to take effect, and we had to find a doctor.
It was important for Marla, my wife, that our child have a pediatrician. This stems from when she was a little girl and her memories of excellent care from a beloved Dr. Kerr. I imagine him to be a cross between Burt Lancaster from “Field of Dreams” and Michael Caine from “The Cider House Rules” but presumably with fewer abortions.
Myself, I never saw a pediatrician. I started going to see my parent’s family doctor, Dr. Gould. He delivered me in the Grace Hospital, and I just kept coming back. I saw him up until my early 20’s, when he semi-retired and went to America for more money. I remember Dr. Gould as having the bushiest eyebrows and the deepest voice I’ve ever known in a man. In fact, as a kid, I thought a prerequisite to being a doctor was that you needed to have bushy eyebrows and a deep voice. He was a fine doctor, although he didn’t have much rapport with me. I guess he thought every kid was into hockey, so he’d always asked me about my favourite Jet. Not following hockey at all, I usually just muttered the first name that came to mind. “Um, Thomas Steen?” I offered, being more of a question than an answer. “Oh Thomas Steen is great!” he’d respond, and go on and tell me all about his stats, strengths, weaknesses etc and I would just sit there and nod my head and hope he didn’t ask me any follow ups. At least my current Doctor and I have the understanding that we don’t have any rapport at all, and we’re both fine with it.
Getting back to the pediatrician or no pediatrician debate, I was fine with just asking one of our doctors to be our daughter’s doctor, but Marla went out and called around to see if there were any openings. The first thing she found was that it is really hard to get a doctor, whether you’re a newborn or adult. After calling a few doctor’s offices to no avail, she thought about her old clinic where her beloved Dr. Kerr practiced. Miracle of miracles, one of the doctors was willing to take us on. Let’s call her Dr. Grimch. Everything in the doctor department was set. Skip forward a month or so, SPOILER ALERT we successfully adopted our cutie patootie daughter and it was time for her first check up. The clinic was downtown and I was able to get time off work to tag along. We were met at the reception desk by a cerberusesque secretary corps that had no record of our appointment. “But we just called last week!” we said. Ever seen the “computer says no” sketch from Little Britain? It felt a bit like that. Don’t even get me started on the lengths we had to go to trying to explain that our medical card numbers and our daughter’s were different for the time being. Luckily, (not sure if it was luckily for us after all) Dr. Grimch had an opening in about half an hour and we could wait til then. A full hour later, we finally got into an examination room and saw Dr. Grimch. Luckily our daughter was happily sleeping in her car-seat the whole time. The examination seemed to go well, and even though we had trouble at the front desk, anyone can make mistakes, right? We were ready to forgive and forget.
A couple of weeks later, Marla took our daughter into her former workplace so everyone could meet her. The visit went well, except Marla was really thrown because her former boss seemed to know a ton of personal, intimate details about the adoption, and our daughter’s short medical history. Turns out Dr. Grimch is Marla’s former boss’s sister-in-law, and she was blabbing about it to her! Isn’t there something about patient confidentiality, or am I imaging this? I was pretty furious when Marla told me, but Marla is far more forgiving than I am. While I was ready to dump the Grimch, Marla knew how hard it was to find a pediatrician in this town and thought we should stay with her.
The next incident happened when our daughter was about 6 months old. She developed a cough and was having difficulty sleeping. I didn’t think it was more than a cold, but Marla thought we should get it checked out. Marla called the clinic and was told that Dr. Grimch would call her back and talk to over the phone to see whether a visit was warranted. Grimch never called. Marla called again, saying her daughter was getting worse. Again she was told she couldn’t bring her in until Dr. Grimch called. Still no call. Three times Marla called, and three nights went by with no call backs. “Screw this!” she said. “Let’s take her to Children’s Emergency at the Health Sciences Centre”. This probably saved our daughter’s life. We parked, got inside, was screened by an admitting nurse, answered some questions from another nurse, got in to see a doctor, got a prescription and was back out at our car in 45 minutes. I realize that is unusual, but it pointed out to us that there were alternatives to the Grimch. As it turned out, we saw Dr. Garda in the emergency room. She just happened to be on the Manitoba Task Force for the H1N1 epidemic, and she recognized our daughter’s symptoms. She started her on the tamiflu medication as a precaution since the H1N1 test took five days to confirm. “We don’t want to wait five days” was all she said. She didn’t need to say anything more. As it turns out, our daughter DID have H1N1, and it truly is a blessing we saw Dr. Garda that night. We never did hear from the Grimch.
At our next scheduled appointment, Marla told the Grimch about Audrey getting H1N1 and how she and her clinic failed our daughter and let us down. The Grimch seemed genuinely taken aback that this happened. She apologized to Marla and told her that “this would never happen again”. Marla, always the forgiver, found this adequate.
One of the supposed advantages of being at this clinic, we’re told, is that we can see any doctor if our main doctor is away. This doesn’t work of course when the doctor is there but just doesn’t return our calls. There was one time when our daughter had an ear infection and our doctor was away, so we were assigned one of the other doctors. I can’t remember his name, but I believe it was Dr. Cockfaceowski.
Dr. Cockfaceowski, or “Cockface” for short, was the most obnoxious, disagreeable jerk I’ve ever encountered in a lab coat. Before looking at our daughter, he took one look at my Blue Jays cap and said “The Blue Jays suck. You should take that off.” This was sort of like an evil Dr. Gould all over again, except this sonofabitch was ‘dissing baseball. My first response was “Fuck you and your Winnie the Pooh tie”, but then some part of the back of my mind told me this wasn’t the way you talk to a doctor, so I just said in an even but icy tone “Our daughter is really sick with an ear infection. Please look at her and if you see fit please help her to get better”. I didn’t make eye contact with him for the rest of the visit, but his last comment leaving the room was “Baseball is for losers”.
Let’s just say that we’ve been blessed that our daughter has been mostly healthy so far. I can’t imagine dealing with these people more than once a year.
Fast forward to this past week:
Our daughter has developed a little cough that only seems to happen at night. It doesn’t seem to be getting worse, but Marla thought it wise to get it checked out. She called the clinic, which has now moved from downtown out near our house. “Well that’s more convenient!” I exclaimed one night. But Marla didn’t seem too happy with the move. It turns out that the main reason she was sticking with the clinic was that one of her fondest memories as a child was going for a malted milk in the basement of The Bay downtown after her appointments and wanted to share this with our daughter! There are no malteds in the suburbs.
Oh, and by the way, we’re still waiting for the Grimch to call back.