when it’s time for a new car, i go through a grieving process because i love my cars – love them, i tell you. i drive my cars an average of 14 years, and log hundreds of thousands of miles on them. we have a relationship, my car and me. i take good care of my car, really good care. i keep her clean inside and out. i deal with only the finest mechanic – someone i was referred to by someone i love, someone who loves me back. my car gets her oil changed the first week of every quarter, regardless of what the little sticker says. i keep her in new shoes, new brakes, new batteries. i keep my car happy and she, in return, gets me and people i care about where we want to go and back. safely.

as much as i value my wheels, i find it odd that folks spend more time looking for a new car than they spend looking for a doctor . . .

when my husband’s blood pressure spiked for no apparent reason, we headed to the primary care office because the insurance company says we don’t know a thing about shopping for a cardiologist, and we might choose one that, given our particular policy, is out of our price range. we made an appointment, arrived 15 minutes before the appointed hour on the appointed day, then waited 45 minutes beyond the agreed-upon time to get some face time with the primary care doc. (not necessarily eye contact, mind you, but we do catch a glimpse of his face.)

in the precious 10 minutes allotted us, we asked for the name of a good cardiologist because obviously hubby’s heart’s gone wonky, and we didn’t study the heart in this context, in the classes we took, or in the lives we’ve led.

“give us a name,” we asked, “tell us who can help us.”

primary care filled out the paperwork and gave it to his “scheduling girl” without telling us the name or phone number of the person who will be calling us. we didn’t even talk about what criteria he used to decide that this one particular person is The One We Should See. does he beat you at tennis once a week, primary care? did she graduate at the top of her class? do you belong to the same church or investment club? or does this person you’re sending us to pay the highest referral fee?

we want the name of the person you’d send your mother or your dad or your wife or yourself to see.

a  week goes by, and we’ve heard nothing, so we call the primary care office and we’re told oh, they’ve been trying to call, but well, they’re just so busy, you know. when i point out that is the very last thing we want to hear, they are dumbfounded. (yes, i did take the time to explain.) hours later, we are informed that we have an appointment with somebody 2 weeks from now. oh – and by the way, it’s an hour away. nobody ever asked us if that would be a good day and time for us, if we’re even going to be in town, if we’re willing to drive. our time is obviously not valuable. our health and peace of mind of no concern.

primary care dude and crew, here’s the thing that’s overlooked far too often to suit me: we are your customer.

that’s right: i said CUSTOMER. i know you prefer the word “patient” because it’s familiar, and there’s something so elevated about it. “customer” is so common, and there’s not the embedded hierarchy as in the word “patient.”

well, we’ll take it from here, thank you very much. we’ll find our own cardiologist. we’ll ask family members who they would suggest we see. we’ll get a suggestion from knowledgeable people to whom we are more than a car payment.

we get permission from the insurance company, we make our own appointment, getting in more than a week earlier at a time that’s mutually convenient. yes, we’re still driving an hour, but it’s our decision. a choice we made.

we’ll see you soon, joe the cardiologist who studied the other workings of the heart. we’ll see you tomorrow, actually, and i want you to know this: i have spent more than half my life with this man. we have a mere 36 years’ worth of miles on us at this point. and we have miles to go before we sleep. miles, i tell you. chunks of miles.

consider our first meeting an interview. we’re not committing to a lifetime together – at least not yet – and you should probably know that i’m not afraid to fire doctors. i’ve done it before when my loved ones weren’t being well cared for. oh, and i should probably mention that we’re auditioning your staff tomorrow, too.

i’ve been told i have authority issues with the medical community. call it whatever you want, but i am not afraid to ask you to call me by my first name, and i’m equally unafraid to call you by your first name in return because that levels the playing field. i am not afraid to remind you that our differences right here, right now come down to the fact that we took different courses in college. i know you were taught differently, but then maybe you had an incomplete education. maybe they should have taught you the basics of customer service.

you are providing a service we are in need of. you have knowledge we can use. you weren’t born with this knowledge, you weren’t annointed with it. you simply did what the rest of us did to learn the invaluable things we know: you studied, you read, you took notes and tests, then you went out into the world and that’s when the real learning started.

some of the best business relationships are pillared by the same things that support other lasting, mutually-beneficial relationships: empathy, respect, listening, and genuine caring. those other workings of the heart that we‘ve studied, read about, took notes, and been tested on.

we may appear cool, calm, and collected tomorrow, but make no mistake: we are afraid. you’ve been around this block many times before, but it’s our first time on this particular corner. we want and need your knowledge. we want and need at least one good reason to feel confident in your abilities. we want and need a reason to trust you, to feel comfortable following your suggestions, and we don’t build that kind of relationship just by looking at the framed certificates hanging on your walls or the top of your head as you remain bent over your clipboard.

when we show up at your office tomorrow, here’s a little something to keep in mind: we’ll be kicking tires and taking you out for a test drive. i don’t care how many cup holders you have or if you have sirius radio, but i do want to give you some idea of what we’re looking for. i sure do hope you’re The One We’re Looking For, joe the cardiologist, because there’s not much i hate more than car shopping.



  1. Mrs Mediocrity

    Well that was quite the little weaving of a story, and you already know that I can relate, that I have the same issues, and I wish you the best of luck and I am hoping that Joe, too, knows what he is in for and that he'd better live up to your standards, or else. And that is a good or else, cause somebody has to stand up to these people, somebody has to make sure it's done right. And you, you are that girl. I will keep you both in my thoughts.

  2. Jennifer Prentice

    It takes a certain caliber of a writer to articulate what is (rightly) indignation and (a bit of) anger at the flagrant way you were treated by Dr. Primary Care. Thank you for beautifully voicing what so many people in your situation or one similar think or feel. I am thinking about and praying for you and your husband as you turn the corner of this unfamiliar street together.

  3. whollyjeanne

    thank you, sugar.

  4. whollyjeanne

    oh yes, thelma j. you and i definitely speak the same language, and i've long valued the language of experience more than book learning. if these are authority issues, then so be it. i own them. and hey, you and i know that having authority issues doesn't make me wrong.

  5. Lori G

    You so ROCK, Jeanne!!! You are a right on the money and brilliant! You are a star.

    Thoughts and prayers tomorrow that you both find the perfect model!!

    Keep me posted!

  6. glennis

    best read in quite some time, anywhere!

    good luck tomorrow- i'm sure you'll be checking under the hood. maybe you ought to forward this to his/her office just to let them know who they are being interviewed by…

  7. whollyjeanne

    thanks, lori. your comment made me tear-up a bit cause i just never know how neighbors, people who see me in the grocery store, will take some of the things here. big relief and big appreciation from me to you.

  8. whollyjeanne

    haha, glennis! and thank you. thank you muchly.

  9. emma

    Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I will be sending lots of good juju your way, and look forward to learning the outcome of your test drive. Between now and then, however, can you take a moment for yourself? Go light a candle or take a walk or dance on your bed or meditate… and trust that it is all – ALL OF IT, the crux of every fearful thought and feeling – going to be OKAY.
    big kisses.

  10. whollyjeanne

    what would i do without my emma? i shudder – no i refuse to think about that.

  11. MrsWhich

    I envy your freedom. Where I live, there are no doctors. We have no choice AT ALL in which specialist we go to unless we make a huge fuss, and even then, it's at our family doctor's discretion. If we have one. Which I don't. I was fired by mine. He didn't like that I didn't take his advice on my kids' vaccination schedule. He didn't like that I asked too many questions. He didn't like that I expected him to look into things or give me real answers. He didn't like that I wanted to talk about our health, and not limit my visit to just one problem per visit, as the sign on his wall requested. He prefers elderly patients and actively advertises for them. So now I and my kids have no family doctor and wait 2-5 hours in walk in clinics for every medical need. That is the penalty for not showing enough deference to the family doctor. Imagine if I manage to irritate the only dermatologist or ear-nose-throat specialist for 100 km after waiting 9 months for an appointment? Our doctors have absolute power, and even to ask too many questions is reason enough for them to discontinue service, despite there being no family doctors taking patients and only one of most types of specialists available. I envy the ability to really take control of one's own health and expect health professionals to be professional. Good for you!

  12. quiltdivajulie

    I fired my primary care doc over poor customer service nearly 3 years ago – couldn't be happier with our new PCP (who, by the way, was found exactly as you described – through satisfied customer/patients).

    I also fired numerous pediatricians who labeled me a “neurotic mother' re our now-adult son who is on disability due to multiple mental health issues. I wasn't neurotic – they weren't listening!

    Good luck to you!

  13. Susan Reep

    Just catching up on blogs. You have certainly summarized medical care well – I laugh at folks who say we don't need health care reform. I hope joe the cardiologist was what you hoped for. I wonder how you both are, other than hearing on twitter that hospitals are not quiet (no quite the contrary). Anyhow, I'm thinking about you. Sending love.

  14. whollyjeanne

    oh, mrs. which. when pregnant with my second child, i was tossed out by the ob-gyn because i asked too many questions . . . but i had plenty more options.

  15. whollyjeanne

    hey julie! i think about you often. in fact, i thought about you as i was writing this post, figuring you'd understand exactly what i was feeling.

  16. whollyjeanne

    thanks, susan.

  17. whollyjeanne

    oh yes, thelma j. you and i definitely speak the same language, and i've
    long valued the language of experience more than book learning. if these are
    authority issues, then so be it. i own them. and hey, you and i know that
    having authority issues doesn't make me wrong.

    soooo glad for twitter. otherwise i might never have met you.

    and that would be a crying shame.

    big hugs,

    jeanne hewell-chambers
    woman, wit, writer

    Contact Me [image: WordPress] <>[image:
    Twitter] <>%5Bimage:
    WordPress] <>

    — @ WiseStamp
    Get it now<;

  18. Brenda

    Oh my, I do so understand, My sweetie is having some neck, shoulder problems–PCP gives pills and recomends PT–but we don;t know what’s wrong I say–PT makes it worse, pills aren’t helping. So Tues I call PCP–to tell them ( we need the dreaded referral) we are going to the Specialist of our choice tomorrow, Thank you–I need to take care of this man–cause you know what good care he took of me and still does–I’m also not always impressed that you have Dr before your name or MD after–just treat me lke you know me and want to help!!! Your words are always beautiful and somehow you get in my head and bring them right to the page–I so so envy and enjoy your gift!!!!!

    • whollyjeanne

      Thank you for your kind words. Yes, your family took good care of you, and we all owe them a big Thank you for that! I hope the specialist of your choice tomorrow has good sense and a caring, healing nature about her/him because yes, a caring attitude is good medicine. Why is that so hard for them to understand? Do let me know how it goes. xo

  19. Brenda

    Oh and please let us know if Joe was all you expected him to be and if your hubby is ok

    • whollyjeanne

      Hubby is doing fine – great, even. Joe? He stopped practicing shortly after our first follow-up visit. Went to work in the insurance industry. Sigh.

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