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Houston Asthma Walk: Just Because You’re a Doctor

March 24, 2005

In 6th grade, I learned a valuable lesson about doctors that the wit and humor of Dr. Grossman had shielded me from.  Doctors were not infallible.  Some, in fact, were downright stupid.

I don’t remember the first one’s name.  I didn’t go to him very often.  I was at that age where I was on the cusp of pre-adulthood, and no longer needed a pediatrician.  He talked to me a bit, and then made the stunning pronouncement “Well, I don’t think you have asthma, but I’m going to have you keep taking the medication anyways.  It seems to be doing you some good.”

I didn’t go to him for very much longer.

The second example of stunning doctoral decision making came in the form of Dr. Gray (not his real name).  Dr. Gray was the allergist that my mother’s HMO insisted I go see prior to them agreeing to give me the shots worked up by my uncle.  My uncle was an ENT Specialist with a practice in Louisiana.  One summer he and my aunt came to visit and my parents got into a talk with him about my asthma.  He felt that a lot of my problems could be resolved with allergy shots.  And he was willing to do the testing on me.  So off we went.

There are several ways to do an allergy test.  The most invasive and time consuming of which is to do it by taking a small amount of the allergen, injecting it into the body, and seeing if the patient reacts. This is done dozens of times, for various levels of the allergen.  Up until a few years ago, i still had scars on my arms from being stuck with little needles to see how I would react.  Some of the reactions were so bad, they surprised even the nurse.

Dr. Gray sat down with my parents and I to discuss the shots.  He had a horrible habit of speaking to my parents as if I had no say in the matter, which, at 18 years of age, irritated me.  It was his opinion that he own office should do the allergy testing again, “Just to be sure.”  I refused.  It was only when my parents echoed the refusal that he dropped the subject.  Instead he picked up on my father’s allergy to bees.  He was doing a study, he claimed, wherein people who were allergic to bees overcame their allergy by being repeatedly injected with the very same chemicals that bees use.  In other words, Dr. Gray wanted to subject the man who was allergic to bee stings to a series of bee stings in the hopes that it would make him all better.  That was right around the time when we began referring to Dr. Gray as “The Quack.”

The original series of shots went fine.  I had them given to me for over a year, including some time in college.  Then my uncle decided that his practice was no longer going to make the shots, and that was the end of that.  The HMO didn’t want to simply pick up the mix where my uncle had left off, despite him offering to send the exact formula to their lab, and I was under no circumstances going to go through the allergy testing ever again.  Little did I know.

After my trip to the hospital, I was sent to the allergist again.  We talked about my reaction, and he made the suggestion that I should go get the dish I suspected had caused the attack and bring it in to the office.  He wanted to have me eat it and watch my reaction.  Note that.  He wanted to have me go into anaphylactic shock, just so he could “watch my reaction.”  I politely declined.  However, I did agree to try getting allergy shots once more.  My experience with Dr. Gray was a little friendlier this time, in that he didn’t treat me like a small child.  However, when my mother came with me for the actual tests, he reverted back to the old mode.  This time around, the testing was done by dipping a small needle in the allergen and scratching my back with it.  Rather like getting a very large, very spaced out tattoo.  Except it itched like mad.  When the nurse came in to check on me, she got that sound of panic in her voice that I was coming to recognize, and summoned the doctor.  It was then that I noticed the gloves she was wearing.  Latex.  I asked her if she had worn latex gloves while doing the tests.  She said she had.  Despite all the warnings that I was highly allergic to latex, she had worn latex gloves.  My back was covered in splotchy red swellings surrounded by an angry red rash.  The tests were a wash.

I don’t remember what was said between my mother and the doctor.  For all I know, we simply walked out of there.  I was in a lot of pain and not terribly pleased by the service we had been given.  There was a lesson there.  Just because you’re a doctor, doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing.

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