I Have Blue Cross
Eight months ago, the optometrist wrote our son's pediatrician a letter, recommending that he be referred to an eye specialist for a condition called exotropia, a weakness in the eye muscle that causes intermittent double vision.
Six months ago, we went to see a pediatric ophthalmologist, who confirmed the diagnosis. He mentioned a probable eye surgery, a minor outpatient procedure, during which the surgeon physically pulls and tugs at the weak muscle to correct it, a minor tweak kind of, with the fully conscious patient telling the surgeon what his eyes see until he sees right. "It feels only like a slight pinch," winked the amiable doc as he turned to my wild-eyed son. "I know what you think, you think who wants to be pinched in the eyes. But, really, it's not a big deal."
Three weeks ago, as the six-month follow up neared, I called the ophthalmologist office to find out the exact date to bring my son back. "Oh, that doctor is no longer with us," said a receptionist, "I'll have to schedule your son with Dr Takana, at another location within the group." I was baffled, disappointed to find out that the kind doctor we like was no longer with us. The receptionist did not offer any further explanation, and I did not ask. I remembered the doctor had taken an unusual long time to talk to us, speaking mostly to his little patient, explaining him his eye condition, easing his anxiety, and mine. He noticed my son's book in his hand, some fantasy novel by Funke, or one from the Artemis Fowl Series, and tapped him gently on his shoulder like a long-lost friend, confiding: "Keep reading, young man! That's what has saved my life and gave me an education. I used to read and read. But after Med School, I no longer have any time for books. That's how I became a doctor, and dumb." I remembered I had told myself, next visit I'd bring him something to thank him for taking his time with us. But as I received the news that he had left the Medical Group, I did not share my thought to the receptionist, who was cold and courteous, and spoke rather like a robot: "You will have to go to our Pasadena office. Please write down the address. Goodbye."
Two hours prior to the appointment, I remembered that I had saved a copy of the initial referral letter, and thought of verifying the new office address, which was listed there as one of the satellite office. Only then, that I realized, the doctor that the receptionist had scheduled my son with, was not an ophthalmologist, but an optometrist. We have waited seven months for this check up. I called up the office to inquire about the mix-up. The receptionist was professionally annoyed: "Mam, all patients from Dr . ____ were switched to Dr. Takana. You are the first one to complain."
"My son was recommended by an OD to go see a MD. And you are telling me you don't see why I am hyped up when he's switched from his MD to see an OD, without even informing me? Do you know that an OD is not qualified to provide him the care he needs, a surgery, per example?"
"Mam, I'll cancel your son appointment today since you don't want to see the doctor."
A minute after I hung up the phone with the Medical Group, I called Blue Cross. I told the customer service guy my dilemma, and asked him where was my son's doctor, what happened to him (Did he kill someone and got suspended, I thought), was he still with Blue Cross, etc. Yes, he is still with Blue Cross, (I exhaled, I know he's a good doc.)but with another group.
"So how can my son see him?"
"Well, you need to first switch group."
"Does that mean we'll lose our current pediatrician?"
"Basically, yes. And by the way, its location is too far from where you are, Mam. It's almost impossible for you to go there."
"That's all Blue Cross can advise me? Where is my patient's right? Don't you guy have to let the patient know that his doctor is no longer seeing him, and the doctor that is seeing him is not equally qualified? Don't I have the right to that important information concerning my son's care?"
"Mam, all you can do is to go back to your son's pediatrician and request another referral, if you don't want to see the doctor they assign you now. I wish you a good day, Mam. Goodbye."
As a Catholic, I used to look at the cross with reverence, and associate with it, a trust, a love, an unquestioned faith to its healing power. But after I hung up the phone, another image conjured: a dying man, blue from suffocation, hanging on the cross, nailed there by an indifferent network, which markets itself as Blue Cross. I hear its jeer: "It's Blue Cross, don't you get it? Blue Cross."