A mother’s ally is a good doctor

By Jane Flanagan

If you are a 45-year-old woman like I am, and your son just started kindergarten, you are grateful for good doctors. I want to be around to see grandchildren, so I will do whatever I can to see that my body is up to the endurance trek.

I’d been feeling some tightness in my chest on the left side after exercising. I’m an unlikely candidate for a heart problem – low blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. – but I knew I’d better check it out.

I’m fortunate to have a radiologist brother-in-law on the West Coast who is up-to-date on medical technological advances.

“Nuclear stress test,” he said. “The only really accurate test in women.”

I found a cardiologist Uptown.

Sitting in his waiting room filling out paperwork, I noticed something. I was the only one there. I often find myself in doctors’ waiting rooms that are packed by overbooking. It’s not unusual to spend an hour, hour-and-a-half waiting. Most people do not have this kind of time to waste. Certainly mothers don’t.

I remember running into a friend last winter. She had two boys, ages 4 and 3, elderly parents in New Jersey who needed considerable help, and a part-time, important-income-producing job.

I met her on her way to P.S. 234 to pick up her son from pre-school. She had just come from a doctor’s visit Uptown where she was kept waiting for an hour-and-a half. With the pending school dismissal 45-minutes away, she gave up.

“How do I get reimbursed for that?” she said.

Once I was in his office, the cardiologist listened closely to my symptoms. He also took a careful, family history.

“It’s probably a muscle strain,” he said. “But that’s a diagnosis of exclusion. We have to rule everything else out first.”

He did a sonogram of my heart. It looked normal. He then walked me over to the radiology office across the street, explaining the up-coming stress test as we walked.

“Whoever told you to get a nuclear test gave you the right advice,” he said. “It’s the only reliable test in women.” (Something to do with wiring.)

Having been to doctors who pooh-poohed my concerns (a pediatrician in New Jersey comes to mind) I knew what I had here: a doctor who took me seriously.

A cardiologist, no less.

I’m also an hysteric. He could have dismissed my concerns, but he didn’t.

I also liked the way he handled the great, 21st-century-compromiser to good medicine: managed care. When I first made my appointment, his receptionist immediately referred me to his biller who verified my insurance on the spot. His medical staff was then free to focus on me.

At the radiology office we went nuclear. Pictures were taken of my heart and arteries. I was hooked up for an E.K.G. and then got on the treadmill. As my heart began pumping faster, a technician shot dye into my veins. Next, he pushed a button and the treadmill moved into climbing mode. All the while the doctor monitored my heart. Then more pictures were taken to see whether the dye-colored blood flowed properly. Blood was also drawn for some type of new blood work that detects problems even a nuclear test can’t.

By the time I was in climbing on that treadmill, things were looking good. Still, sitting in the waiting room, I remained tense until the results of the pictures came back.

“Everything was normal.”

Thank God.

Like mothers everywhere, mortality now has an added, terrifying aspect. I’d never forgive myself if I died young on my son.

This was not lost on the doctor.

Before beginning the tests, he said, “We’ll check everything out. You’ve got a 5-year-old at home.”


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