December 21, 2004

Doctors, Doctors

Well I have this cold that I just can't seem to get rid of. I've had it since before we moved in here (which is over a month now!) and the runny nose, sore throat, and headaches have been plaguing me. After I started to lose the hearing in my ears again I figured it was time to go in.

How the hell do you find a good doctor?! That's one thing I hate about moving to a new area is trying to hook up with a good doctor. I've had totally incompetent ones (like the guy who sent me home with "bronchitis" when I was actually suffering from severe congestive heart failure--that guy could have killed me), and I've had some of the most amazing doctors ever to cross the earth (like my Stanford cardiologist who brought me back from the transplant list and gave my life back to me). I have noticed a pattern--the specialists I've found on my own (which is to say that going to Stanford for cardiology was a total no-brainer. I also had a fantastic psychiatrist there too) have been really good, but I haven't had much luck with primary care physicians.

I decided to start with UCI (University of CA at Irvine) because I've had good experiences with university doctors in the past (read: Stanford--sensing a theme here?). I called and was told that of course I need to have a complete physical and new-patient appointment and blah blah blah, our earliest opening is February 23rd. Uh, yeah. Have anything open tomorrow? Okay, I can drop in tomorrow for a brief appointment but still have to have the new patient thing. Whatever.

Going to the doctor is such a pain for me because my medical past is so extensive and complex. The cardiology problem is huge. Add in electrophysiology (my ICD/pacemaker), bipolar disorder, sleep apnea, allergies, mild asthma, dislocating kneecaps, GERD, and probably several other problems that aren't coming to mind, and I can spend easily 1/2 an hour just talking about my medical history. I dread the question "what medications are you taking?" and as I rattle off my list and have to ask "is that 8?" ("no, it's only 7." crap, run through the list again, and oh yeah, aspirin--is that 8 now?). Then the doctor comes in, looks at my list, and says "Wow, tell me about [fill in the blank]." They're always interested in how I came about my heart condition (answer: nobody knows--probably a virus). I had one doctor tell me I was the only person he'd met with bipolar disorder who didn't smoke (I can totally see why).

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So there's all this hoo-ha when all I really want is someone to look into my ears and tell me if I need antibiotics.

The UCI clinic turned out to be a total ghetto. I'd forgotten that as a university, they also treat the poor, indigent, and uninsured. Needless to say I won't be going back there. Anyway, after the whole history and stuff I finally get to see the doctor. She was actually very nice and she thought that my symptoms were more indicative of allergies than a cold. What a pain. My ears are full of fluid but luckily are not infected yet. She prescribed Allegra (which I've taken before with good results) so that brings the medicine list up to 9. She did say that if I'm not seeing results from the Allegra in 10 days or so to come back and we'd try someone else. It's always nice to have a doctor who really wants to help you feel better rather than one who just wants you to leave their office.

So going to the doctor today reminded me that I really have to do something I've been putting off--which is setting myself up with a phalanx of doctors here. I started with Cardiology. I'd heard good things about Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, and they do both cardiology and electrophysiology so I thought I would start with them. It turns out their setup is very different from Stanford's. At Stanford they have a clinic in the hospital where all 4 cardiologists practice. In the same clinic are the electrophysiologist and even the transplant team. They share the same office staff and the records are the same so everyone can work together. I thought Hoag would be the same way, but apparently it isn't.

I called the "Heart Failure Program" at Hoag to try to make an appointment, and spoke with one of the nicest people in medicine I've ever come across--a nurse practitioner named Kathleen, who runs the heart failure program. Apparently the HFP is just an educational and support program, not a group of doctors. They run classes and information sessions and other things like that. Well I think I pretty much know all there is to know about heart failure, but it sounded interesting and Kathleen was so darned NICE. She invited me to a class they're having on Jan. 4th ("is that soon enough?" Are you kidding me? I can't even get a primary care appointment until the end of February!) and suggested I come about 1/2 an hour early to chat with her one-on-one about what they offer and how she can help. It was clear that she's extremely passionate about her work, which is just so cool.

And she was able to give me some referrals. She recommended a particular female cardiologist in Newport Beach who specializes in congestive heart failure and in women's cardiology issues. Perfect! I called that doctor and of course wasn't able to get an appointment until Valentine's day, but that's fine since I'm not currently having any problems and really just need to establish a doctor in the area.

I didn't have nearly as much luck finding a psychiatrist. My psych at Stanford had recommended the mood disorders clinic at UCLA. Unfortunately they aren't participating in the research study I was in at Stanford, but they are doing a lot of cutting edge research in the field. I've found that facilities that participate in research are really the most up-to-date doctors, and the last thing I want to do is see a dinosaur, particularly since my current medication is something that I was a part of a clinical trial on and has only recently been approved by the FDA for bipolar disorder (it's a miracle drug, I tell you, and I'm very lucky to have gotten in on the ground floor with it). Well the clinic at UCLA has proven very difficult to get ahold of. After being hung up on once and being on hold for over 10 minutes twice, I gave up and decided to try tomorrow. Hopefully that will work out well. I am not having any immediate problems in that arena too, and anticipate that I'll probably end up with a February appointment as well, which is fine.

So that's the update on my health situation. If anyone knows of a good primary care doctor in Anaheim/North OC I'd love a referral. Let's hope it doesn't take too long to find a smart one.

Posted by Shelby at December 21, 2004 05:14 PM

I had a great Primary Care Doctor in Irvine named Samy Younis. He's an Internist who has priviledges at St. Joseph's in Orange and UCI (oh yes, UCI Medical Center is a total "dive" -- all the gang-bangers go there to have the bullets removed from their tattooed bodies.)

Dr. Younis was just named one of OC's BEST Physicians by Orange Coast Magazine. The only reason I don't see Dr. Y anymore is because I moved and switched jobs.

Posted by: Katrina at December 21, 2004 08:53 PM
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