Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Just call me a medical experiment

I went to the doctor’s office the other day, seeking antibiotics to keep a deep cough from becoming even deeper chest congestion. Dr. Mark Mroczko, who practices at Advent Medical Group in the medical building attached to Advocate Eureka Hospital, was his usual cheerful self as he greeted me, listened to my wheezing, and prescribed a round of antibiotics for me. They worked; it’s gone now.

Then, before he left, he asked me a question that I’ve become used to in the past couple of years, since I moved back to Eureka: “Do you mind if our intern listens to your heart valve before you go?”

My mitral valve, destroyed a few years back from a serious infection, was replaced by a mechanical one—and it clicks. Seriously, it clicks…sometimes I can hear it as I’m drifting off to sleep. Dr. M says most medical students never get the opportunity to hear one in person, so I always oblige.

He and I get a kick out of watching the students’ reactions when they first hear it. Their eyes light up and they nod their heads, saying something like, “Yeah! I hear it!” It reminds me of the reaction my friend’s child had at learning to stab green beans with a fork when she was little. She kept exclaiming, “I got one!” each time the fork hits its target.

I can’t help but be caught up in their thrill of discovery. Sometimes, it takes the students a little time and maneuvering of the stethoscope to get it in just the right place to hear it. Dr. M, ever patient and just as thrilled as they are, often shows them the best place to hear it—just below my collarbone and to the left of my heart surgery scar. When they finally find it, he nods right along with them as if he shares their enthusiasm.

I don’t know when it was—or maybe I should say, when I noticed—that my doctors were becoming younger than I. I’ve lived in a number of places and have had a variety of chronic conditions that need continual monitoring and care. That means I’ve had myriad general practitioners and specialists over the years. I tell you, they just keep getting younger.

When I first met Dr. M, which was even before I moved back to town, I thought with some alarm, “This guy doesn’t look old enough to be a doctor!” I haven’t asked him his age, because I refuse to think he might be young enough to be my son.

But his skill and care in managing my varied and sundry health issues has changed my initial assessment of him. When I first came back to live here, I was still recovering from my long, difficult time in the hospital after the heart surgery. I kept ending up in the local hospital for a variety of ailments, not the least of which was gall bladder removal.

He began managing my care, and streamlining my prescriptions and referrals to specialists. He set two goals for us: to keep me out of the hospital and get my blood work to a healthier level.

Somewhere along the line, as he got to know me as well as my ailments, he noted he enjoyed working with me both as a patient and as a person. He started calling me an ‘interesting case.’ I’m sure he means an interesting mixture of conditions, but I couldn’t help but think early on that I’d like to be a bit less interesting.

And I think maybe I am becoming less interesting as we work together on my health issues. At my most recent three-month visit I learned we finally hit both goals: I haven’t had a hospital stay for over a year and the results of my blood work were the best they have been in years.

I know Dr. M will be embarrassed when he gets wind of this article, so if you know him, cut him some slack and don’t rib him too hard.

That goes double for you doctors, his colleagues! Just because I haven’t mentioned you by name doesn’t mean I don’t know of your excellent work. A couple of you—Dr. Hughes and Dr. Jones—have even been consultants on my hospital stays and ER visits. And you know what Eureka is like—we love to talk. Among the common questions around here is, “Who’s your doctor?” It seems people are pretty pleased with their Advocate Med docs.

Eureka is blessed to have outstanding health care right here in town. My experience with the whole staff at the doctors’ office, including nurses, and front office staff have been nothing but positive. I’ve also had excellent care from the specialists that put in hours at the hospital’s clinic. The entire hospital staff—the emergency room, the physical and speech therapy departments, lab technicians, registrars, and the volunteers who staff the front desk—maintain a high level of care, which includes compassion and humor, along with efficiency and knowledge. I’ve yet to meet a cranky one in the bunch!

For that matter, the Eureka and paramedics that took me to the hospital in the middle of the night a few times were impressive. In other words, the spirit of care reaches beyond the hospital and physicians’ office.

Oh sure, we have many of the same frustrations that you’d find in any hospital—longs waits; bureaucratic nightmares regarding insurance; billing snafus; long, scary needles. As, yes I’m sure mistakes have been made and people have had disappointing, even painful experiences, but that happens everywhere, too.

I’ve been in more than one local waiting room conversation in which we all marveled that such a comprehensive medical facility with high quality care exists in this town. We’ve noted, too, that we wouldn’t get the kind of individual attention at a bigger hospital. I can vouch for that, as I’ve spent a lot of time in larger hospitals in recent years.

They have their place—like when one needs more specialized care than can be provided in a smaller facility. But the bigger hospitals have noting on Eureka’s ability to provide the extras, like compassion, kindness, and a sense of community. In Eureka, we not only receive good health care, we are nurtured. I, for one, am grateful we have such a huge treasure in such a small town.

Published as a Frankly Speaking column in the Woodford County Journal on Oct. 25, 2012.

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