Monday, February 19 , 2018, 2:40 am | Fair 48º

 
 
 
 

Susan Estrich: ‘Managing’ Your Own Health Care Brings On Stomachache

I’ve had stomachaches for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I called it an “uncomfortable feeling.” As an adult, it was sometimes downright painful. But they came and went, and I chalked it up to stress and overwork and my long family history of stomachaches. And when it got a little worse, I dashed in to see the gastroenterologist, who wrote me scripts to stop spasms and break the cycle. But that stopped working, too.

I couldn’t break the cycle, and I entered a world in which trying to figure out my stomachaches produced even bigger ones — the world of modern American medicine at its best and worst.

I’m not covered by Obamacare, like it or not. One of the advantages of having two full-time jobs (law professor  and lawyer) is having two comprehensive insurance policies. Most of the doctors I went to see — supposedly “the best” — had posted signs announcing that they do not participate in any plans, Obamacare or otherwise, no PPOs. Two of them, my two insurance policies notwithstanding, made me pay upfront for each visit. I had access to the best.

I’ve read a lot of stories about how you’re supposed to “manage” your own health care, “produce” it even, as I’ve explained to my friends in the business, just like you might a program or a campaign.

If anybody should be able to do this, other than a doctor, it should be someone like me: smart, well-insured, good for the deductible, semi-famous, well-connected, not to mention charming, not demanding (really, I’m not), a well-liked patient who has done favors and extended thoughtful gestures to many of my doctors.

I spent almost two years trying to manage things. My family doctor tried to help me. And all I can say, in this small amount of space, is that other than in the past month, I failed completely.

Once in a while, a client will mention something he found online about an issue in a legal case, and I will try, kindly, to tell him he really shouldn’t look for legal advice online, that situations are different and facts matter, that some people who write about law online have no idea what they’re talking about even though they do it with great certainty, and that the most important thing a person can do is pick the right lawyer and listen to her or him. I may be wrong, I tell my clients, but the chances of my being right are so much greater than those of someone who doesn’t know this system and understand its workings as I do after more than 30 years that it makes sense to trust me.

Get a second opinion, of course. But make sure it is from the right person. Ha!

I think I saw 14 different doctors. In critical respects, most of them were simply wrong. Wrong. The ones who were sure I needed surgery were wrong because the tests, until the last ones, didn’t prove that. The one who was sure it was all in my head was definitely wrong. The surgeon who reassured me that I needn’t worry about a bag (“I hate those bags; you just can’t find shoes to match.”) was right about that risk, but was completely inappropriate and proposed the wrong surgery anyway.

I say this assuming the most recent doctor, the one I met last week at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, is right. I didn’t manage my medical care. I just endured long enough to find someone my gut told me I should listen to, in the same way my clients should listen to me.

But what I also found at Mayo, and not just from the doctor, was hope and courage. The people I was with for those three days of testing displayed a level of dignity, decency and determination I have rarely seen. To a person, they were sicker than me. I don’t think any of them would tell you they were “managing” their care. We were just lucky to be there and trying to help each other through it. God bless them all.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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