Dante’s Level of HMO Hell.

In May 2013, I switched doctors, since mine moved out to 180th and It’s-Quicker-To-Fly-To-Chicago. She was personable and fine as far as doctors go, and she told me that since I was turning 40, I needed a mammogram and a colonoscopy.

“Do you have numbers I can call do take care of that?” I asked.

“Oh, don’t you worry. We’ll set all of that up,” she said.

So all summer, I waited. And I turned 40 and I waited. And I waited until I turned 41 and decided the only person who was gonna schedule those tests was me.

I scheduled the mammogram and the lovely technician was quite kind and reassuring, and it really wasn’t a big deal.

Until two days later, when I got a letter in the mail saying there were items of concerns in the images, and I needed follow up testing.

I called my doctor’s office. The one who I never heard from after my initial appointment.

“We don’t have the scans yet,” the nurse told me. “So have them sent over.”

I called the hospital where I had the imaging done.

“My doctor needs the scans. Can you send them?”

“We already did,” I was told. “But I’ll send them again.”

I waited 10 days and called the hospital again to schedule the follow up.

“Your doctor still hasn’t sent us an order for the follow up testing, and it has to come from her. Can you call her and ask her to send it over?”

So I called my doctor and explained the situation.

“Yeah…we don’t have your scans,” I was told again.

“They said they sent them,” I said.

“Well we don’t have them,” the nurse said, a bit impatiently.

So I called the hospital again and asked to be transferred to a human in radiology who could really really help me. Finally, they found someone.

“Have the nurse call me and I’ll be sure she gets them.”

10 minutes later, the nurse at my doctor’s office called to tell me she had the scans and would have my doctor look at mine and order the follow up tests.

Last week (another 10 days later) I called the hospital to see if the order had been placed. When central scheduling transferred me, I thought everything was fine, that the order was placed.

“Looks like you have some calcification in the left breast and you do have a mass in your right. So you’ll need another mammogram and an ultrasound,” the mammogram technician told me.

That’s when my brain stopped working and the only words I could focus on were “mass” and “right” and “breast.” Because that string of words often means breast cancer.

We made the appointment for the mammogram and ultrasound, and I hung up, told my principal I was going to need an hour or so the following Tuesday, and tried to not cry. Then my phone rang.

“We checked and your doctor did not send the follow up order,” she said. “We’ll keep the appointment, but that needs to get in before Tuesday.”

So yet again, I called the absent doctor’s office, left a terse message explaining the situation, and pleaded with them to send the order to the hospital. Three hours later, I had a voice mail from my doctor’s office saying that they submitted the order.

Today was the day. The past week I’d been keeping myself busy, trying to be, as my friend Stueve put it, “way too pragmatic” about the possible outcome. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t completely freaking out.

I arrived at the hospital, checked in, only to learn that my doctor had NOT sent the order, and it was unclear whether the tests would be run today.

I still don’t know if the hospital ever received the order, but they tortured me did the mammogram anyway, and asked me to wait until they could contact the doctor for the ultrasound. (I can’t wait to see that bill. I’m sure it will be significant.)

When the tech came back in, I assumed to take me to the ultrasound area, she had a huge smile on her face.

“Good news: the images we took today clarified what we saw initially, and there is absolutely nothing wrong. You’re completely clean. So nothing to worry about, but when I see you next year, I want to see a different doctor’s name on your order sheet.”

You and me, both, I thought.

I forgot how exhausting it can be, the emotional toll on my body. I came home from work and crashed into a sleep that was probably the most restful I’ve had in two weeks.

I’m glad to not have surgery on the horizon, or you know, cancer. Not having cancer is definitely a plus too.

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