This issue features the Top Doctors list, and we’re living through a period of time that truly demonstrates the importance of a robust and innovative medical community. For many of us, our interaction with doctors is primarily preventative medicine: having annual health visits, getting your flu shot—maintenance stuff not dissimilar from changing the oil in your car.
As someone who is chronically ill, I don’t think I had a good grasp on what it would be like to be healthy until I asked a friend to pick up one of my prescriptions and he asked me how to do it.
He’d never filled a prescription before. Absolutely inconceivable.
I’m thirty-five this month, and I take eleven pills a day. Granted, only eight of those are for my heart problems, the other three treat depression. I’m not ashamed to say that, though there was a time I would have been. I don’t see my depression as anything different from my heart problems, and if your brain needs extra chemicals to help you out, I hope you know that’s perfectly fine.
But I think it goes without saying that sometimes people who are sick have to take medicine that makes them feel much worse than the condition itself, and I’m one of those people. Not too long ago, my combination was putting my systolic blood pressure (the top number) between eighty and ninety (it’s supposed to hover around 120). What that looks like in practicality is complete exhaustion. I’ll tell you, sometimes I’m on combinations of heart medicines that make me so drowsy I feel like I’m walking through a fog.
I’ve had to relearn this countless times, so if you’ve lived a mostly healthy life, I hope you can benefit from my experience. I forget that it’s OK to tell my doctor that our plan isn’t working.
You don’t have to be a cool customer. You don’t need to endure bravely. You are not a bother. A good doctor wants to know if you’re struggling. They want that communication from their patients. When it comes to your health, there isn’t any honor in suffering in silence. In fact, it’s dangerous.
So, I told my team—because yes, when you’re sick enough, you have a “team”—that I wasn’t tolerating the combination of medicine I was on. And so, my health care team tinkers, as they always have. Trying one medicine, cutting back on another, upping a different one. I hear things like, “You’re maxed out on Corlanor, so we’re going to introduce Sotalol…”
And, while we’re on the subject of Corlanor, that was actually a tricky drug. A couple years ago, my health insurance had decided that it was inappropriate to treat my condition. They wouldn’t cover it, despite the fact that my previous health insurance had. My doctor had established through my various tests that this drug was doing more for my condition than anything I was on.
I seriously panicked. We had worked so hard to get me to this point in my medication, and battling an insurance company felt completely overwhelming. But I didn’t have to lift a finger. The folks at the Pulse Institute decided that wasn’t something I needed to stress about. They called my insurance provider over and over—as one of the nurses told me with what I can only describe as the best sass, “They can keep me on hold all day if they want”—and appealed over and over. It took six months to get my insurance to cover this medicine. In the meantime, they squirreled away enough Corlanor samples that I never had to go out of pocket, which would have been debilitatingly expensive. In the end, it was your basic David and Goliath situation, and the big guys got tired of battling my stubborn team.
And I think it goes without saying that they never expected any of this would end up in an editor’s letter in a magazine. They’re the type of folk who do good when no one is looking.
And I just want to tell you one other story about them because I really don’t think our health care system is bragged on enough. Years ago, results had come back from my echocardiogram (which is a heart ultrasound), and they weren’t good. They showed that I had never been worse. My doctor told me we would try to get it under control using medicine (full circle, this was actually when Corlanor was introduced into the equation), but we had to look at the other options in my toolbox. Medicine was at the top, but if we went a little further down, an ICD (which is an implantable defibrillator) was something we might consider. And then, at the bottom of my toolbox, a heart transplant.
I heard the words, my brain took thirty seconds to mull it over, and I burst into tears. Because I didn’t want it in my toolbox at all.
When I calmed down enough to catch my breath, I asked him if he could call my younger brother, T.J., who is also a doctor, and explain to him what was going on with me. So, my doctor got on my cellphone and dialed my brother, and they had a lengthy conversation using the fancy words I don’t understand, and later, when I calmed down more, T.J. explained it to me again (sans fancy words) and communicated my condition to the rest of our family.
These are the type of people we have looking after us right now. People who will explain things both accurately and gently. Who will listen to you when you say, ‘I’m not tolerating this,’ or believe you when you say something isn’t right. Who will take on terrible insurance companies so you can get your medication, and make you laugh while they’re at it. Doctors who will call your little brother so he can explain everything to you later.
Our health care system is undeniably broken, but our health care providers are working to counter that. And that’s why it’s so crucial to live an area that has a great health care system.
Of course, blanket statements like these are harmful, and our health care system has a long way to go to make sure that every patient—regardless of the color of their skin or the money in their pocket—receives excellent care. This needs to be an active conversation in the health care community. In a broken system, it is essential to identify who is most hurt and do everything in our power to lift that group. There is a lot of work to be done, and it starts with accountability.
I wish all of you good health, but if a time comes when that’s in jeopardy, I want to assure you that you’re in the right place at the right time. And Dr. H—thank you.
Share this entry
Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living
157 S Howard | Suite 603
Spokane WA 99201
Catering and Management
The Hidden Ballroom
Loft at the Flour Mill
Hangar Event Center
180 S Howard
Spokane, WA 99201
The Hidden Ballroom
39 W Pacific | Spokane WA 99201
Loft at the Flour Mill
621 W Mallon, 7th Floor | Spokane WA 99201
Hangar Event Center
6905 E Rutter Ave | Spokane WA 99212