We all know that as we get older, it becomes more important to take care of ourselves. And that care extends to finding the right doctors—which can often be a time-consuming and stressful process. So, it should come as no surprise that many millennials often don’t have a primary care physician. I should know. I was one of them until this past week.
After a decade of dealing with the medical community as a thyroid cancer survivor, I had grown accustomed to using my specialists for all types of routine care. And while they likely weren’t happy to answer my questions or send me for tests that fell outside their specialty, they often would oblige. But with some recent health issues, the time came to finally get a primary care physician of my own.
The first thing I noticed when I began to look for doctors in my area was how far out they were booking for new patients. Some didn’t have any available appointments for as many as eight months. The other thing I noticed was how many weren’t taking new patients. Growing frustrated with the lack of results from my search, I called my endocrinologist to ask him for a referral (actually, I asked him to run a CBC, which he wouldn’t, and that prompted him to give me the name of a primary care that I could likely get an appointment with).
Four weeks went by as I waited for my appointment to arrive. When the day came, I honestly didn’t have high expectations and was looking at the appointment like another item on my to-do list. As I waited for ten, twenty, and eventually thirty minutes to see the doctor, I grew ever more impatient as I watched people who arrived after me be seen before me. Then, finally, it was my turn. If past experiences with a primary care physician were any indication, I should be in and out within five minutes, I thought to myself. But to my surprise, my first stop wasn’t some dimly lit exam room, but rather the doctor’s private office. I had filled out all of the necessary paperwork ahead of time online, but as I always do, I arrived at the appointment with ten years worth of reports and records. The physician began by asking me to review some of my health histories with him, to tell him about any new issues, and he asked about my overall mental and physical health. With each answer, I could feel the stress of having to wait in a crowded waiting room begin to dissipate. He was thorough and compassionate, and he actually listened to me. Next, I found my way to an exam room, where a nurse reviewed more of my history. Did I ever smoke? How much coffee do I drink? What kind of exercise do I do? All standard questions for a physical exam. Then, she took my vitals before taking blood. This last part shocked me. I was fully expecting to have to make a separate appointment at the lab to go for blood work. I told her at that moment that the thirty-minute wait I had just experienced didn’t seem so bad now. She laughed.
After my record was complete and the nurse had all the information on my vitals and ran an EKG, the doctor came in to see me. We briefly discussed things like my pulse rate and blood pressure, before he gave me a comprehensive exam from head to toe. I haven’t seen a primary care provider in a while, but I truly wasn’t expecting such a complete evaluation.
Before I left the appointment, I once again sat with the doctor in his office. He reviewed his notes with me from the exam and told me why he was running some of the tests he was ordering. He explained to me that I’d be able to read the notes and review my blood work online, but that he would also call me to go over everything when the results were in.
Not even 48 hours later, my phone rang at 8:30 am. It was the primary care physician. My blood work was back—and he wanted to review one test result with me before I saw it in the portal (and likely would have freaked). My calcium levels were high, indicating a potential issue with my parathyroid gland. Since I’ve already had thyroid cancer, this news was slightly alarming, but he assured me we would repeat the test in four weeks to see what was going on. At that moment, I’d never been more thankful for someone’s calm demeanor.
When I went to the primary care physician for this visit, I had assumed it would just be a routine appointment to take a pulse (pun intended). I see many specialists and have regular thyroid labs done, so I wasn’t expecting anything alarming to appear. Yet, as we get older, our bodies change and need more attention. I’m glad I made the time to consult a primary care physician who was able to give me a thorough exam and spend a decent amount of time with me. I’m also grateful that my endocrinologist recommended someone as detail-oriented as this doctor.
The moral of the story is that making time for your health shouldn’t be looked at as a chore but rather as an act of self-care. And, if, like me, you need guidance when it comes to finding a good doctor to add to your care team, remember you can ask your insurance provider, friends, family, or even your other doctors for recommendations!