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My Doctor Fired Me!

by Michele Forsten

Inspiration image

“You’re no longer my patient,” Dr. L, my trusted gynecologist of 15 years, told me. “Where do you want me to have your records sent?”

What had I done to deserve this? Argue relentlessly about a bill? Get caught stealing K-Y jelly?

None of the above. What I did was try to take care of myself the best way I knew how.

I am a breast cancer survivor. Six months after stopping tamoxifen, a so­nogram showed I had an ovarian cyst, and three months later, it had grown bigger. An abnormal thickening of my endometrial lining was also detected.

“Honey, I’m sorry. I think we must remove your ovaries,” Dr. L said. “Come in for an endometrial biopsy first so we can see what’s going on with your lining.”

Dr. L always apologized when de­livering bad news.

By then, I’d been seeing Dr. L for several years. She proved time and again to be a real find. She was gentle, welcoming, and accessible. She always had plenty of time to talk during appointments and returned calls promptly. When she phoned, she’d say her first and last name without “doctor” in front of it, and I felt comfortable calling her by her first name.

So why did she fire me? It started when I told her I was going for a sec­ond opinion about the surgery. I recall a coldness creeping into her voice when she asked if I needed copies of my re­cords for the other doctor.

Since I already had had cancer, I went for a second opinion at a cancer center. The surgeon there agreed that my ovaries should be removed but said he’d check the lining during the sur­gery instead of a separate procedure beforehand. If the results were good, my surgery was finished; if not, he would perform a hysterectomy.

So why did she fire me? It started when I told her I was going for a second opinion about the surgery.

He also planned to do the procedure laparoscopically, without disturbing the abdominal mesh inserted during breast reconstruction, a technique he had pio­neered. Dr. L was planning to go through the mesh and then repair it. Finally, he was covered by my health insurance; Dr. L was not.

When I called Dr. L to let her know of my decision, she said, “I’m a very good surgeon. Do you think I’m only good to do PAP tests?” Before I could respond, she added that since she wasn’t doing the surgery I’d need a new gynecologist.

The surgery went off as planned, and my treatment with the cancer hos­pital doctor ended with a follow-up appointment six weeks later. “Just see your gynecologist in a year,” he said. “I can’t. She fired me as her patient,” I replied, telling him what had happened.

When I look back, I realize that, along with my ovaries, I lost a maternal figure in Dr. L. I had grown to depend on Dr. L to watch my back regarding health issues, and she didn’t disappoint – until now.

In a way, Dr. L did me a favor. Being forced to take charge of my own health was a first step in self-mothering. And at age 55, I’ve found it’s never too late to be a mother.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Michele Forsten lives in New York, NY, and is writing a book of personal essays.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2011.