Monday, July 11, 2011

Living The Big Sky Life: Bad Medicine Bulldogs

Memorable Bad Medicine Bulldogs,
a continuation of "It Takes A Village"...

As despicable as the six-fingered man was in “The Princess Bride”, I think he was on to something when he saw fit to offer Prince Humperdinck the warm reminder:
 “if you haven’t got your health, than you haven’t got anything.”

Apparently even scoundrels can be the bearers of wisdom, and with hindsight I can see that I hadn’t fully appreciated the wisdom of Count Rugen’s clichéd remark until I found myself living in a place where the surrounding medical community rarely failed to disappoint when it came to caring for the health of those I love, pets included.

In all fairness, I would venture to guess that having access to good medicine is probably not a top priority issue for most healthy 30-somethings when making the decision to move from the urban to the rural. And in the ignorance of youth, I was certainly no exception. I’d been fortunate enough to have very healthy children as well, and naïvely believed at the time that we would all remain that way. Suffice it to say, I never anticipated the possibility that any of us would ever have the need for professional medical attention beyond the demands of a typical cold and flu season.

I'd been living in big sky country less than three months when I was forced to re-examine my heretofore apathetic attitude in this regard. It all started with a simple fracture one Friday afternoon when my youngest daughter broke her forearm from an innocent stumble over a bicycle laying in the grass in the backyard.

The emergency room visit to Whitefish’s small North Valley Hospital that followed was as good as can be expected under the circumstances. In fact, the many experiences I had over the next four years were as good as I could expect from any emergency room visit, and they were surprisingly numerous. Although North Valley Hospital was the first stop for those seriously injured on the slopes of Big Mountain, the hospital’s emergency room and staff just wasn’t equipped to handle anything overly critical. Once a patient had been stabilized, said patient would be released with written instruction to promptly follow up with a local physician or ‘specialist’ for further treatment.

That follow-up visit could easily take a week or more to occur. Like all things that fall under the rule of ‘Murphy’s Law’, the emergencies I found myself dealing with often occurred late on a Friday or over the weekend, which made it impossible to even attempt scheduling the required follow-up with a ‘specialist’ before two, sometimes three days. The problem was not so much in the unfortunate timing for that problem is universal, but in the fact that there seemed to be only one ‘specialist’ of any kind practicing within a 150-mile radius. No options, no competition, no second opinions, no back-up .… unless, of course, I wanted to make the 550-mile trek west to Seattle, or even 300 miles to Spokane if desperation demanded.

The Flathead Valley did not have a shortage of doctors, but like its practicing attorneys, many of the valley doctors decidedly remained general practitioners so as to not limit their already limited patient-base with specialties. Those doctors who did profess to be ‘specialists’ were usually the only game in two or three counties, and knowing this seemed to provide them with an arrogant assurance that made for bad bedside manners. It was one thing to have to suffer the side effects of substandard ‘specialist’ care, and quite another to have salt thrown on the wound with bad bedside manners. I'm just saying ....

Given the valley’s propensity to attract dogs with something to hide, including those doctor dogs who can’t practice medicine anywhere else for whatever reason, there always seemed to be an underlying issue in my mind where legitimacy and licensing was concerned. Take my Whitefish OB/GYN for example, Dr. Natelson. Four years into my residency, I was secretly told that the community leaders were investigating his medical credentials because it was rumored he had no credentials, yet somehow he’d managed to obtain a license to practice medicine in Montana. The hearsay was we had a “Pretender” in our midst, and if that really was the case, all I could say was, "he wouldn’t be the first, nor will he be the last." And then I said, "shame on me for not realizing sooner that there might be something suspicious about a baby doctor with a last name like ‘Natelson."

As for pet care, there was one veterinarian clinic in the village and it belonged to a vetted husband and wife tag team. After my best friend boarded her cat there for several days where it contracted feline leukemia and painfully perished as a result, I realized even my own pets couldn’t afford to get sick and hope that the local animal doctors would save them.

Undoubtedly few can argue that the national face of healthcare has changed drastically since my days of living the big sky life. And not for the better I might add. In fact, the third world country healthcare experiences that appalled me in Montana almost 20 years ago is now considered common place throughout today’s 21st century American healthcare system, technological advances notwithstanding.

In the end, I’ve come to recognize that my compulsive fear of getting sick in Whitefish did me a huge favor because now I’ll do just about anything to stay healthy rather than voluntarily submit myself to the mercy of a broken healthcare system.

Next up, “Bulldogs With A Bone To Hide”…

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King

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