Oncologists and Hospitals

Almost two years have passed since my oncologist moved away and I moved to the main cancer center at the hospital to start seeing someone new. I’ve adjusted and can see the advantages of making this change.

Advantage #1

My new oncologist is now my oncologist. She is highly regarded in her field for her knowledge and expertise. She ticked off many boxes on my checklist. I found her hard to read at first. Honestly, I still do, but I feel I’m getting through more successfully and more often. I see where she has made an effort to get to know me. Personal connections make my health care better. We can work well together.

She’s saved my life once so far. I take some of the credit for suggesting there might be an issue with the port or a possible infection. She hopped onto both. More was unraveled before it was put back together. The blood infection could have been much worse. I am lucky and grateful to have her on my side. Someone saving your life is an enormous advantage. Hence, she is awesome in my book and I’ll always be grateful to her.

Advantage #2

I feel more at home now compared to my early visits. I should because I spend a lot of time there and it’s one of the only places I go. In many sad ways, it’s like a second home. It has taken time to feel this way. Navigating from one part of the hospital to another has gotten easier. Bigger places feel smaller when you know your way around and only frequent certain areas. I am more familiar with the ways of operating and the hoops that need to be jumped through to get what I need. It’s amazing how many people I run into that I know when different hats of patient, advocate, and occasional troublemaker overlap. I enjoy the rotating art featured on the walls of the main entrance. I have gotten to know a handful of nurses and that makes my visits easier as I don’t feel quite so alone. We talk about our lives. They have made me feel like a person.

Advantage #3

This setting has more access to the cold cap machines. UW Carbone has two. I wasn’t sure if my former clinic setting had a cold cap machine because I didn’t need one at that point. I’ve since learned they have one. The one time I was scheduled there to use it, it was broken. The staff was as kind as ever, but they didn’t realize it needed servicing until I arrived. I waited 90 minutes for one to be delivered four miles. I had a headache and felt sick before treatment even started. This new memory has tarnished my experiences there and I won’t return again. Sometimes smaller settings don’t get things if a larger setting is nearby. For example, there was a time when chemotherapy and other infusions were not made in house at the smaller location. These arrived throughout the day by courier. Having access to overlapping needs in one location is an advantage for patients.

Advantage #4

Pharmacists come talk to me while I’m getting treatment. It’s a perk to the COVID-19 life, but I like the more personalized service and opportunity to talk a bit more about side effects and get multiple questions answered. Delivery service is one less stop for me and that’s fantastic after I’ve spent hours there and I’m ready to go home. I even have an oncological pharmacist I can myChart with questions about medications and side effects. She has phoned me to talk in depth about a new medication I started for neuropathy.

Advantage #5

Bucky Badger visited the treatment area long before COVID-19 came to the country. That’s a definite perk to a treatment center at UW Hospital.

Advantage #6

It’s a few miles closer than the center on the other side of campus. I don’t have to deal with students ignoring traffic lights if I happen to be driving through as classes are switching.

A Handful of Disadvantages

There is always room for improvement. Scheduling can still be a frustration. There are some impersonal aspects where I don’t feel fully seen or heard. My days there are plenty hard. Something usually pops up that’s unexpected. Yet, I see shifts in some of my original perspectives from when I switched care settings. A part of me still would prefer how everything used to be, but that isn’t an option anymore. I work hard to make the best of things and know saying what I need and what works or doesn’t work is a part of my plan.

I read on social media that my oncologist has been named the Department of Medicines interim Division Chief for Hematology, Medical Oncology, and Palliative Medicine. I am not sure what that means for me. Is it an advantage or disadvantage? A trusted medical friend has told me many doctors do both clinical and administrative work. My oncologist already serves in numerous leadership roles. One reason my former oncologist recommended her for me was she was not as heavily involved in admin as another doctor high on my list. Will she still have time for me? I asked directly and she said she cut back in other areas to maintain her patient schedule. Another oncologist has now left and a new one hasn’t been hired yet. This means the remaining oncologists have to absorb her patient load which means there is less opportunity for me to see her.

As a teacher, we were “encouraged” (no choice given) to be involved with numerous committees in addition to teaching. Curriculum development, wellness planning, positive behavior interventions, and collaboration groups were just a few of these groups. Yes, they are important, but they also became a series of hoops to jump through to prove our worth as teachers when our year popped up during teacher evaluation cycles. I always thought that the actual teaching was meant to reflect our teaching strengths. Go figure. It was also a way to get more work out of us. At times this work definitely felt like it fell outside our job description. I wonder if this same kind of talent stretching goes on in medicine. Is my oncologist involved in these multiple areas because she is genuinely interested and an excellent fit for them? Or are there other reasons that pull away from patient care? Teachers, doctors, anyone in any profession can be stretched too thin. It is a disadvantage when that happens.

Nothing is perfect. My main concern always is how my care will be impacted. I am watching and always evaluating. I make an effort to look at situations objectively but can’t dismiss subjective circumstances. What affects me may affect someone else. It so often seems that I’m thrown off course when I finally get used to something. Change is constant. There was a time I rejected coming to the hospital for treatment. It was the last place I wanted to go. Now, it’s a home away from home.

Author: Kristie Konsoer

I've been living well with metastatic breast cancer since 2012. This blog is a place where I can share thoughts and ideas on cancer, how I feel perceptions of cancer must change, and how I am finding a way to live with strength, hope, meaning, resiliency, humor, and hopefully a little wisdom.

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