Saturday, November 7, 2009
Pushing the panic button
Had a mini-meltdown the other day at the end of my workday.
The inside of my mouth was feeling increasingly full and I started feeling dizzy. When my breathing became labored, I was convinced that my airway was closing up and that the janitorial crew was going to have one unholy mess on its hands when it arrived to tidy up the office that night. Or I would have a shot at being picked in an audition for the Blue Man Group.
If I left work right away, I had a chance of getting to Kaiser before the Head and Neck Department shut down for the day. If I didn't get there in time, I would just go down the block to the emergency room. I sent a text message to my best buddy to loop him in on what was going on, and he phoned right away to tell me I should go straight to the ER.
I made good time getting across town to Kaiser so I decided to head first to Head and Neck to see if Dr. B1 was around. It was an economic decision, frankly: The copay for seeing Dr. B1 is $15 but a visit to the ER would set me back 50 bucks. My symptoms weren't getting worse so I thought I wasn't taking an unnecessary risk.
While riding the elevator to the sixth floor, I listed the symptoms I was feeling in my notepad so I could just hand it to the receptionist at Head and Neck as soon as I walked up to the counter.
She greeted me by name, as always, and sensed right away that I was scared. After reading the first few lines of my note, she got on the phone to see if she could find Dr. B1.
He was out for the day, so she found another doctor in the Head and Neck Department. And in just minutes I was sitting in the exam room for Dr. Ditirro, shaking like a leaf.
As soon as Dr. Ditirro entered the room, I thrust my note pad at him.
The first thing he did was check my airway by sliding a camera into my trach. He assured me that the airway was clear and that I was in no danger of suffocating. He said that my mouth was still recovering from the biopsies on Tuesday and that the swollen feeling would diminish.
Based on Dr. Ditirro's calming demeanor, I got the feeling that I'm not the first Head and Neck patient to have an anxiety attack like this. Right away, I felt at ease.
I am fortunate to have been able to walk in off the street and get looked at by a Kaiser provider right away. I thanked Dr. Ditirro for his time, and then spent a few minutes in the reception area steadying my nerves and texting my friend that I was fine.
I know that health-maintenance organizations sometimes get a bad rap from patients; even in this blog I've written about occasional loose cogs I've encountered in the Kaiser system. But those experiences are the exception, not the rule. The quality of care I get at Kaiser is excellent.