Getting your doctor’s appointments lined up, and then getting through them, requires its own kind of survival skills.
Chances are that if you are a cancer patient or survivor, you need to see more than one specialist. And if you’re a transplant recipient like I am, you might have long-term complications that necessitate seeing a range of doctors.
A slew of specialists all want a piece of me. (In some instances, I mean that literally.) In addition to regular check-ups with my hematologist, I see an infectious disease specialist, a head and neck oncologist, an allergist, a gastroenterologist, a dermatologist, a urologist, and an ophthalmologist, all in Boston, 90 miles east of my home.
The calculus behind arranging my medical appointments can be stunningly complex.
I try to schedule two, and sometimes three, appointments in one day or on consecutive days. I can stay overnight with my sister or a friend who both live in the Boston area. But I don’t want to camp out at either place, so I avoid scheduling appointments three days in a row. Even if you live closer to your treatment center, you probably don’t want to schedule appointments on so many different days that you feel like you’re running back and forth all the time.
But one doctor only sees patients Wednesday and Friday afternoon, while another works on Tuesday at one location and Thursday at another, and so on. If you are trying to master the art of scheduling, I suggest remembering that you are the consumer and have a right, as much as possible, to be accommodated. Patience and persistence are called for, and also politeness. It also helps to remember the names of staffers that you regularly talk to; sometimes they can intervene on your behalf. Occasionally, a note of desperation gets results. I don’t do this on purpose – it’s just that I can’t spend my days driving back and forth on the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Logistically, clustering doctors’ appointments makes sense, but it can also be tiring. Even if I have only one appointment, which is sometimes the case with my regular check-ups at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, I keep in mind some things that might help you:
· Dress nicely. If you look good, you feel better.
· Bring plenty to read. Sometimes the waiting room magazines aren’t the greatest, and if you have to wait a long time, you might as well keep your mind on something interesting.
· Drink plenty of water. In order to keep your nerves in check, consider drinking half-decaffeinated coffee that morning instead of full-strength brew. If you need high-test coffee (which, true confession, I do), chase it with a glass of water to stay hydrated. Also, carry a water bottle throughout the day…and remember to drink from it.
· Get yourself a treat. I often stop at the Au Bon Pain in the Brigham’s lobby with my newspaper and sit down with a muffin and “half-caff” between or after appointments.
· If you don’t live in a major metropolitan area and are going to a cancer center in one, and if you feel well enough, do something you wouldn’t normally do at home. This can be as simple as sitting on a bench in a beautiful city park or something more adventurous such as going to a museum if you have time.
Last week I had two appointments on Monday and two on Tuesday. On my drive home, I got so tired that I had to pull over at a rest stop and take a nap in my car. Then I bought a Coke for the rest of the ride.
At least I don’t have any appointments for another two months.
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