I have lots of doctors. Don't panic though; I'm good. I think very few people get to my age without a few things starting to go sideways on them.
To start with, I have a Primary Care Physician. He's sort of like the traffic cop who keeps all the other doctors coordinated. In addition to him, I have a bunch of what I call “gists.”
What's a gist? Well, in no particular order, I have a cardiologist, an oncologist, a dermatologist, a gastroenterologist, an endrocrinologist, a hematologist, a pulmonologist, and a urologist. That doesn't count any of the surgeons who have been taking little pieces of me for years. I think I will probably die from all the little bits they keep taking, and not from any disease.
You have to be careful with “gists.” They only really know about their particular specialties, and if you ask them a medical question that's not in their specialized field, they tell you they don't know anything about whatever it is your asking. What's really fun is when two or more of them give you competing instructions. Let me give you an example:
A while ago, I had no energy. I mean I couldn't find the strength to get off the couch. To fix this, my endocrinologist prescribed medication. A couple of months later, my oncologist discovered that my red blood cells were out of control and my blood was getting thicker. She told my cardiologist, who said I was trying to pump sludge through my heart, and we had to get this fixed right away. My cardiologist called my Primary Care doctor and recommend therapeutic phlebotomy. This is when they take a bunch of blood out of you to try and thin your blood. My oncologist didn't like this solution and said that taking a pint of blood every two weeks was no way to manage my care. She also believed that this problem was being caused by the medication, but she couldn't really be certain.
So now I've got four doctors involved in a simple little thing. When my oncologist told me that I should stop taking the medication, I asked her where I was going to get the energy to get off the couch. She didn't know and had no suggestions. I remembered the little white crosses we would use in college to stay up all night and study (ephedrine pills, which acted as stimulants), so I suggested she just give me couple of bottles of them. Then I'd have more energy than I'd know what to do with. Yeah, that didn't go over too well.
Well, I know that aspirin thins the blood, so I asked my cardiologist and my hematologist if I should increase the amount of aspirin I was taking. Good idea, they agreed. So now I take aspirin and get a phlebotomy when my hemoglobin starts to climb. Louise thinks it's great because she gets to remind me to get to the hospital to get my “lobotomy.” Yeah, she's a riot.
Since all of my doctors are on Cape Cod, when I first get back from Florida in the spring I have what I call my medical week. It's a week of blood tests, PET scans, stress tests, and lord knows what other medical torture they'll want me to go through. On the upside, the PET scan is fun because they inject me with radioactive stuff and then warn me several times to stay away from pregnant woman and small children because I'm literally radioactive. Remember how Spiderman got his superpowers? From the bite of a radioactive spider. I'm still waiting for my own superpower to appear.
I make all the rounds that week, making sure all my doctors get paid enough money to make their monthly boat payments. Sometimes I think that's really why they want to see me. On the other hand, the regular appointments are a sign that I’m still in good health: When they make an appointment for me to come back and see them in six months, I know I'm good. I'll worry when I finish an appointment and go to the scheduling desk and the nurse says, “Oh Mr. Hagberg, I'm looking at your chart and I can see there's no need for you to make another appointment.” That's when I'll know I'm in real trouble.