Bedside Manners

In regards to my health insurance, I opt out of HMO in favor of a PPO. HMO’s just seem a little too structured for my taste; I prefer the more free and loose feel of the PPO. Okay, so maybe “free and loose” isn’t a phrase you care to have associated with your health insurance, but to each his/her own.

One HMO requirement that I find of particular annoyance is the required declaration of a primary care physician. I’m not entirely sure why this bothers me except to say that I like having the ability to go to any doctor I choose at any given place or time. So it is with a little surprise that I find myself drawn to once again make an appointment with a physician who has treated me somewhat recently; I typically feel no such loyalty. And while this next visit is indeed related to an initial procedure he performed, that relationship is not the prominent source of my compulsion to see him again. It has occurred to me that I have developed a rapport with this particular doctor, an understanding, and I’m pretty sure I know just about when it took hold.

A couple of months ago, I developed a stye on my left lower eyelid. No big deal, really; I have gotten them from time to time and they typically fade within a few days. This time, however, days went by and there was no improvement. I wasn’t particularly worried since it was hardly noticeable and of only minor annoyance, but after several weeks passed, I decided to shed any anti-doctor machismo and schedule an appointment. Besides, it WAS a bit noticeable and it certainly did not seem to be going away.

The appointment was with a physician located in a medical building near my house. I had a pretty good hunch as to what treatment would involve, but he did me the courtesy of at least trying a one-week dose of antibiotic and hot compresses. There was, of course, no improvement and I knew things were to get interesting as I strolled into that next appointment a week later.

As the nurse walked me into the operating room, she told me not to look around. Now, I have to admit, this did not help. We were both adults here; we knew what was going on. What’s wrong with me taking a look around to see what I’m up against? Is it really that bad?

Preparation consisted of me laying on my back and looking up; simple enough. I could not see the length of the needle as the doctor’s hand approached my face, but if I had to guess I’d say somewhere around a foot-and-a-half. The feeling of that needle entering my lower eyelid was one of the strangest, and not entirely welcome, sensations I have ever felt. Yes, it hurt; I have no qualms admitting it. I understood he was delivering Novocain to the location, but the location felt all wrong to me. I was positive this needle was making its way THROUGH my eye, well-nigh reaching the back of my eye socket. I began to almost panic; this guy is making a mistake! In a casual voice, as if merely asking for a box score at the local bus stop, I said, “Where are you going with that?”

“I’m just in your lower eyelid. Why, does it feel like it’s in the middle of your head?” He sounded almost amused.

At this point, I mustered a little laugh. “Heh. Yeah.” Hilarious. By now, the nurse had given me her hand to squeeze as the needle seemingly pierced my frontal lobe. This did nothing but add to my annoyance since it took considerable mental effort not to crush bones. I couldn’t just let go, though; a lady offers you her hand, you take it! I know that much. I found myself thinking that maybe the guy stabbing me in the eye should give me HIS hand for a second; then maybe we’d get somewhere. But no, this hapless nurse gets the thankless task of being squeezed with intensity directly proportional to the amount of pain (and quite possibly annoyance) I feel. I think the doctor probably would have enjoyed seeing her in pain, too. Here I was this instrument of his, a conduit through which pain could freely flow from me to her. Well, I would give him no such satisfaction, so I focused physical effort on my other hand, which was currently trying to tear the metal trim from the operating table.

Okay, Novocain’s in. Now we’re on easy street, right? I rolled my eyes forward long enough to watch him grab a tool resembling an X-Acto blade. Wonderful. Eyes, roll back. Now, I’ve heard the expression “every inch feels like a mile,” but I didn’t know it evolved from surgical procedures. I was certain he was making about a 3-inch incision in my eyelid and surrounding tissue….and it just kept going. The pain built-up within me until bursting out in the form of a meager, questioning, “Ow?”

“Oh, does that hurt?” I later realized it was this remark that cemented the bond between he and I, the one that had me saying to myself, “this is my guy!” I’m not sure which medical class teaches doctors to ask this question with such incredulity as they jam a razor blade in your eye, but my guy must have aced it. In a split second, I had thoughts of sitting up, punching him in the face, and then asking him if it hurt. But even then, I doubt I could have come close to the tone he was able to strike with me; for that, I applaud him. I physically restrained myself and responded.

“Uhh…YAH,” taking the smallest bit of pride in the sarcastic edge applied to my response. Pride. Go figure. Yeah, I really showed him, didn’t I? Coming from the person laying there bleeding out of his eye.

“You should feel some discomfort, but not pain.” Another classic doctor line. I might suggest that pain is simply a greater degree of discomfort, but what do I know?

“I’ve felt discomfort, and that’s not it.”

“Ah, okay.” He reached for the Novocain and hit me with it one more time. Once again, I was amazed by how much it felt like that needle was tearing through the white of my eye. I wondered how it would feel if I was actually having work done on my eye; where would it feel like he was working then? Where was there left to go?

From that point on, I felt more “discomfort” than pain and the procedure wrapped up fairly quickly. My eye looked no different than when we had started, but I was assured that as the healing process ran its course the swelling would go down and things would return to normal. For the most part, things did return to normal, but the slightest trace of irritation remains, hardly noticeable. Only recently, as I sat contemplating a return visit, have I become cognizant of the bond I formed that day with the doctor. Sitting here thinking about round two, at least I can find solace in the fact that whatever may happen from here on out, be it pain or discomfort, he and I will experience it together. Him, with that incredulously smug tone in his voice; and me, eyes rolled back, restraining the preternatural urge to punch him in the face. Hey, I’ve definitely heard of less constructive relationships.

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