Marc Abrams: My Walking, Dealing Doctor
I think it was in 2002 that I first met my doctor. I had taken a job that provided the world’s worst HMO health insurance. For the HMO ignorant, the patient is tasked with pouring through a book of random names and groups and without the benefit of any vital information (Number of years in practice, number of complaints to the AMA, number of malpractice lawsuits…) expected to pick a “primary care physician.” I did what most people do (I say this after very unscientifically polling seven friends) I looked for the name that sounded most Jewish. A common practice based entirely on a myth. Growing up in a Jewish family, I could say a lot about that but lets just save that diatribe for another day. Instead, I’ll tell you that as someone who spent a large part of her childhood in hospitals (I was burned pretty badly at the age of five and went through 37 operations over the next sixteen years) I really have very little respect for doctors. So, let’s just say that my expectations are pretty low. In fact, my only reason for going to see a doctor on a regular basis is that he is the only thing standing between me and the non-narcotic-but-still-requiring-a-doctor’s-prescription prescriptions I need to treat the stomach problems and headaches which are, as they say “my cross to bare.”
Dr Abrams seemed pretty standard in everyway except one, he only saw patients after 5:30 pm. Seriously, Monday thru Friday, from 5:30 until 10 pm., and it was much more convenient than having to actually leave work to see him. I found out why his hours were so odd on my first visit. My Dr led something of a double life. At night, he was the mild mannered family practitioner. By day, he was known far and wide (he was super famous in Silverlake, CA) as “The Walking Man.” Yes, from early morning until late afternoon, my Dr walked, rain or shine, for better or worse. He was a topless, bronze colored, newspaper reading, fitness fanatic. Many referred to him as “The Tan Man” because he walked shirtless in exercise shorts reading the paper. He was in great shape (or so I assume) and judging from the quotes of him in the numerous framed articles about him that lined his office walls, he loved fitness, life, and being famous in Silverlake. He also liked expensive suits and silk ties. That was all he ever wore to the office and I never saw him wear the same suit or tie twice.
I was to see him every month for the next seven years. For about the first three years, his waiting room stayed pretty consistent. It was mostly middle class/working class white and Latino patients and out of that, probably half were over the age of 60. Unfortunaltely, I’ve come to realize that I’m either chronically stuck in my head or pathologically self-obsessed or a bit of both, whatever the case, I’m just a lot less visually observant than other people. So it’s not surprising that it took me at least a year to notice that the demographic of my Dr’s patients had begun to shift radically. It started to dawn on me one evening in early 2008, I looked up from my book as two young heavily tattoed Armenian guys compared their medical marijuana cards. I studied them and realized they were dressed in gear that would have served them well as extras in a hip hop video. Then I surveyed the rest of the patients. They were definitley a younger “edgier” clientelle than they had once been, and the only people who looked sick in that waiting room, looked drug-addicted, strung out sick. Still, it didn’t even occur to me to switch Dr’s. No, I enjoyed the front-row view of that brand of pharmaceutical fueled insanity. The wild looking people, the snippets of conversation I overheard “The Ritalin stopped working can I switch to Adderall?” “Fentanyl suckers are so much better than oxy’s” “Percocet isn’t strong enough. How about Dilaudid?”
Then one day the Pharmacist at Wal-Mart pulled me aside and in a hushed tone he explained that corporate headquarters had made the determination that they would no longer fill any prescription written by my Dr. It didn’t matter what it was. When I innocently inquired why? The Pharmacist just shrugged and shook his head. On my way to a different pharmacy, the thought crossed my mind, “I wonder if it’s time to change doctors?” It was easier just to switch pharmacies.
A month or two later, sitting on the floor in the hallway outside his now insanely overcrowded waiting room, I found myself in what was to become a monthly conversation with a sad, chubby woman in her mid to late 30’s. She seemed so lonely that her voice trembled with excitement when she spoke to me. She had this amazing talent for hooking up with lazy, cruel, misogynistic Armenian dudes and falling deeply in love with them. She described by name (a long list of names each started with an Americanized nickname like “Al” and “Rob” followed by consonent oozing surnames which invariably rhymed with “Armenian” like “Parsekian” and “Barsegian”) and in detail, each meeting and the various bizarre, degrading, or just horribly selfish sex acts followed always by the inevitable soul-crushing dump sessions in which these guys would proceed to recite a virtual grocery list of reasons why this girl was an unsuitable “girlfriend.” Each story seemed worse than the last and I would leave Dr. Abrams office so depressed, that I would vow to change my appointment just to avoid having to hear these stories again. She would visit Dr. Abrams for prescriptions of “big bottles of Xanax” to treat the anxiety she suffered (most likely brought on by the men she dated.) She started stalking me and making sure her appointment was at the same time as mine each month. I tried to explain that I wasn’t qualified to give her “therapeutic advice” but, she was either so high or so broken that she seemed bound and determined to make these monthly meetings her regular therapy session.
Last April I had an infected tooth and Dr. Abrams gave me a prescription for some kind of antibiotic. It took me a few weeks to actually get to the pharmacy and drop it off. When I returned the following day, the woman behind the counter gave me a look, which I’m certain, is normally reserved for junkies and pedophiles. “We cannot honor this prescription” she said tersely “Your Dr is no longer practicing medicine.” Stunned, I just looked at her for a second. “But I just saw him like two or three weeks ago…” She pushed the offending slip of paper toward me as if it were just riddled with disease, “you should call his office.”
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