Waiting for Dr. Godot

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I received the phone call at work. It was a notification from my mom’s Life Alert system. She was at the hospital. I later learned she’d experienced a sudden and intense tightening in her chest. The EMTs had whisked her to the hospital emergency room.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a heart attack. It was “aortic stenosis,” and Mom needed a TAVR (Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement). She’s now safe at home, on the path to recovery. But her ordeal brought me face to face with two 21st century medical phenomenons. First, doctors and hospitals these days are “fantastic.” And second – like the mysterious title character in Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” – your doctor may not even exist.

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When Mom arrived at Med-Central, she met with Dr. Ahmed. He explained that she probably had aortic stenosis, a narrowing of her aortic valve. But before he could replace the valve, he needed to verify by doing a cardiac catheterization.

infusionWe looked up Dr. Ahmed on the internet. Wow… fantastic reviews! And even better, Betsy Babcock, Mom’s bridge partner who “knows everything,” verified that Ahmed was, indeed, “fantastic.” Nothing to worry about.

So it was a shock when I learned that the catheterization was done by Dr. Evans.

“Dr. Evans is on the same team as Ahmed,” explained Mom. I looked up Evans on the internet. Wow… no reviews.

But the catheterization did show that Mom had aortic stenosis, and a TAVR was scheduled. “They’re going to do the TAVR at Rivercliff Hospital in Columbus, not Med-Central,” she said. “Dr. Evans said that the surgeon will be Dr. Rabokov.” I asked her why Dr. Evans wasn’t going to do it at Med-Central, but she didn’t know.

Betsy Babcock lit up when we mentioned Dr. Rabokov’s name. “Oh, he’s fantastic! His team did Bob’s TAVR!” This made me feel a lot better.

Then my wife, an Ohio State graduate, offered her two cents. “It’s a shame she can’t have it done at Ohio State Med Center. They did fantastic things for my dad.”

I hesitatingly looked up Rivercliff Hospital on the internet. Wow, fantastic reviews!

“Look at this, Buckeye nut,” I countered. “Fantastic reviews for Rivercliff.”rod and snake

“That’s fantastic!” said my wife. “Yeah, they’re probably just as good as Ohio State.”

We arrived at Rivercliff for testing and initial consultation. We looked forward to meeting with Dr. Rabokov afterwards.

But the nurse said that Rabokov was in surgery. Instead, Dr. Wilson would be meeting with us.

“Who’s he?” I asked.

“Oh, he’s on the same team as Dr. Rabokov,” she explained. “Don’t worry, though, he’s fantastic!”

After the testing was finished, Dr. Wilson met us in the waiting room. He seemed very knowledgeable. Mom later asked Betsy Babcock about Wilson.

“Don’t know him,” she said. Uh-oh.

I didn’t look up Dr. Wilson on the internet. I figured since he was on the same team as the “fantastic” Rabokov, then he was fantastic, too.

When surgery time approached, my brother drove Mom to her preliminaries and blood work. Dr. Rabokov was in surgery all day, so they met with the Rivercliff nurses instead. Mom has nothing to worry about, they said. Rabokov’s team is the best there is for TAVRs.

The operation itself lasted just a couple hours (it’s hard to believe how far we’ve progressed with cardiac surgery. They’re becoming so smooth, and routine, it’s unbelievable).

doctorAlso unbelievable was the guy who came out to meet us in the post-surgery consultation room. It wasn’t Rabokov. It was a Dr. Vasquez. And he looked like he was 17 years old. He was so young-looking, a couple times I almost called him “dude.”

Dr. Vasquez said the surgery went fine. I wanted to ask him if Dr. Rabokov was guiding his training. But I held off.

While Mom was in recovery, I noticed a line of portraits on the wall. They were all Rivercliff cardiac doctors. Wilson was front and center. His academic and training credentials were boldly displayed. There was no portrait of Rabokov.  I didn’t see Vasquez, either, but I assumed he was still in medical school when the photos were taken. Or perhaps grammar school.

The nurses said that Dr. Rabokov would be making rounds the next morning, and I could then ask questions about things like pacemakers and day of release. But the following morning, when I asked how soon Rabokov would arrive, the RN said “Who? Ahh. Well, Dr. Rabokov’s in surgery. Dr. Vasquez will be here, though.”

I finally realized that there is no Dr. Rabokov. Like the Wizard of Oz, he’s a mythical creature, a chimera composed of pieces of all the cardiac M.D.s associated with the hospital, and intended to dazzle us plebeians with his brilliance.

I figured that Messrs. Ahmed, Evans, Wilson, and Vasquez had cooked up Rabokov over a few martinis at the country club. The periodic intercom announcements of “Dr. Rabokov to recovery, Dr. Rabokov to recovery” were designed to keep the patients in suspense, and to provide entertainment for the overworked nursing staff.

Rabokov was also a convenient foil. If anything went wrong during surgery, the staff could always blame fictitious Rabokov.

Yep, Dr. Rabokov was, indeed, “fantastic.”

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NOTE: the names in this story have been changed to protect the innocent, and also to protect me.

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