How’s Your Doctor’s Hearing?

January 2011

You’re no doubt eager to hear my colonoscopy story as a preface to the Orange County Medical Association’s latest Physicians of Excellence list. It’s a good one, Monty Pythonesque in its absurdity, right up there with my vasectomy story. But no, I’ll spare you a full accounting.

The story I’d rather tell underscores the value of a thoughtful and involved doctor—and the problem with those who are not. It began last June, when I injured my left shoulder. I play soccer every Sunday with a bunch of other delusional old men. In what I recall as a heroic fast breakthrough skilled defenders—this may have nothing whatsoever to do with reality —I went up and over the charging goalkeeper and landed on my left elbow, jamming my arm into the shoulder socket. One second I had a perfectly functioning left shoulder. A second later, I didn’t.

I waited a few weeks to see if the pain would subside and the range of motion would improve. They didn’t. The throb was as constant and dull as rush hour on the 405—annoying, but certainly nothing that required a doctor’s attention. For months I tried exercising it away, with no luck. During a routine physical with a new doctor nearly five months after the injury, I told him about my glorious but problematic encounter and asked why my shoulder still hurt. To his credit, he sent me off to radiology for some X-rays.

Two weeks later, after hearing nothing, I called the doctor’s office and asked if the X-rays offered any clues. The receptionist took a message. Later, someone I’d never met called back with the diagnosis: arthritis.

Which, of course, fails to explain why my shoulder was fine one second, and not fine the next. It was like hearing the cause of my severed head might be tonsillitis, and enough to remind me that, for all its wonders, the effectiveness of modern medicine still comes down to a doctor who’s paying attention.

So, as a New Year’s resolution, I’m doctor shopping. And I plan to start my search here.

Martin J. Smith

Illustration by John Ueland

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