The report of my death was an exaggeration

The report of my death was an exaggeration.

-Mark Twain

Yep, not dead. Not even internet-dead. Although, since I don’t have an Instagram account, I think I may have never been internet alive – technically.

I am still practicing medicine roaming the High Plains. I just stopped writing. Not even on purpose, at least if I had done that I could say I had made a decision. One day, I didn’t post anything, then another, then another, then suddenly it had been weeks.

Writing is hard, doing it consistently is even more difficult. More specifically to my situation, things have just been better. So, I have less to process and complain about on the blog. Or, I should say, my life has been better.

Having a kid who can breath on her own has turned out to be pretty awesome. It also means I am busier than I was and something has to take a bit of back seat, e.g. the blog. Moreover, we have decided to buy a house, so I had been working more to save up for a down payment.

I still kind of feel like buying a house is a big scam, but, I would really like to plant some fruit trees and grow more of my own food – much easier when you own a piece of land.

It also seems to make more sense when you have a small child. Having a kid doesn’t mean you need to buy a residence, but somehow it makes doing so seem a little more logical.

The Bitterness Subsides

On the other hand, medicine is a still an FOS crazy train barreling towards a bridge the Wile E Coyote of corporate healthcare waiting to blow up.

I am just more ambivalent about it all.

At one point, I felt a burden to make healthcare in America better. It drove me crazy to think how terrible it all was. How the incentives were all misaligned. The way we harmed people through overtesting, overtreatment, and overprescribing on a daily basis appalled me.

All the while treatments which could actually make a different in people’s live are not available to huge numbers of people because of our terrible health insurance nightmare.

Yet, anyone can score some oxy or sildenafil without much finagling at all, legally. And usually get some or all of it paid for.

I have come to accept my smallness in this shitstorm. I have also come to accept the sad fact that a lot of people would rather have the shitty system we have than risk a different system or especially risk changing their own lives to improve their own health – physical and mental.

Occasionally, I do something noble and decent as a physician. Usually, I am just moving people’s problems around and giving them pills to treat the physical symptoms of a broken, lonely, and self-destructive society.

We seem to prefer it that way. Better the suffering you know….

Settling Down, Kind of

So, with my life outside of medicine improving, and my expectations from medicine having decreased significantly, I have decided to settle down – kind of. As I said above, we are buying a house. I will continue to travel for work, but mostly to the same location.

I have signed a contract to work as a staff physicain with one Critical Access Hospital 80% of the time. I have worked with them off and on for the last year. It is a low volume place with a good set of local staff. It has very few resources, but a rather pleasant patient population.

We will not, however, be moving to this town. Once bitten, twice shy. We may end up splitting time for a while. We may even move there eventually if it all works out. I’ll spend 2 nights a week there and give it a shot.

You might ask, why travel out to the middle of nowhere when there are plenty of good suburban urgent care or PCP jobs available closer to home?

I will make more in this new gig that I would in the City practicing 5 days a week as a PCP. I will even possibly be able to access some loan repayment. And the volumes I’ll see would be laughably small in a City. I’ll get to see patient’s in the ED, Hospital, clinic and NH. So, other than delivering babies, will be able to keep my skills up for the most part.

Chief Complaint – R foot swollen, hurts.

But mostly, it is because of stories like this:

I was working at this location a few months back and this older man comes in to see me in clinic.

Chief Complaint – R foot swollen, hurts.

Walking in the room, I see my MA has exposed his right foot to the knee. It is swollen, red. It looks painful. The remains of a homemade bandage lie on the floor next to the foot covered in dried blood and pus.

So, Mr Banks, what happened here?

I cut the bottom of my foot on the screen door three days ago. The day or so has been swelling, getting red. Hurts like a sonofabitch now.

I bet, let me take a look.

I bend over and look at the bottom of his foot. There is a 4 inch gash at the base of his right small toe down to the tendon. Shockingly, his toe’s movement and function is fine. Red, swollen, cellulitic skin surrounds the wound and streaks up his leg. A golden crusty discharge of a staph infection frames the image.

I lean back and sit down. Well, Mr Banks, it is definitely infected. Unfortunately, even it weren’t infected it has been too long to close it with sutures, so we’ll have to let heal on its own. Given the how bad of an infection it is, I think we should have you in the hospital for a day or two on IV antibiotics…

Hold it, he interrupts. I am not going into the damn hospital. I’ll take some antibiotics, but I am not gonna be in the hospital.

I startle a bit. My normal experience is people trying to convince me they are sicker than they are and need more pills, treatments, nights in the hospital than I think will do them any good. I pause and look him in the eyes. Well, I say, let me think about we can do.

After a bit of creative restructuring, I pitch him this plan.

If you’re willing to come to the hospital twice a day for a couple of days for wound care and IV antibiotics as an outpatient we might be able to work something out.

I am not crazy doc, I’ll do what I need, I just don’t want to be in the hospital.

Ok. We’ll check a CBC and CRP daily and a Vanco level every 2 days, make sure the infection is improving, and then transition him to oral antibiotics.

I can handle that, doc.

I write the outpatient orders for the hospital nursing staff and set him up for clinic visits for the next two days. These will physically take place in the hospital outpatient ward, but will be billed as clinic visits.

In 30 minutes, I have set up an outpatient hospitalization for this man. Medicare has saved a huge amount of money. I will see no benefit. No financial incentive exists for this kind of care.

I was meeting the patient in the middle and get him the care he needed.

I know of no other setting where a clinic doc could arrange this kind of creative care without a huge outlay of time and energy.

This poor doctor would still probably fail in the end. Angry patients would then punish her for being late. She would sacrifice time at home with her family to more charting. Yet, it was possible for me to do this fairly quickly at a Critical Access Hospital.

Sure, it was a little more work, but not an absurd amount. Honestly, it was less work than a hospital H and P and medication reconciliation plus a discharge summary at the end.

This is why rural medicine pulls me back in. There is still a place for creativity and bending the possible on the High Plains. I am not sure for how much longer, the corporations are at the gates.

But, very little money grows in the Big Empty, so they may just stay at the gates for a while longer.

Photo Credit: Mark Twain, by AF Bradley, New York, 1907.

Special Shout out to Dr. Mo, his recent post lit the fire under my rump to write another post.