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(Dec. 27, 2009)

  Doctors are the enemy.
          Right now, I am nearly doubled over in pain from kidney stones, and able to type for two reasons: Vicodin, and anger.
          The last thing you ever want to do when you are sick is to see a (western) doctor. Follow every old wives’ tale remedy and treatment you can find. Get acupuncture. Get Chinese herbs. Tough it out. If some quack wants to cut you open, get three, four, five alternate evaluations. Doctors should be your last resort.
          I hear some of you clucking your tongues and saying, “Uh-oh, crazy Rense is getting crazier. Turning into a bonafide crank in his old age.” Well, I’ll be lucky to have an old age, given the casual advice of a doctor the other day to get a CT scan. New studies show that some of the CT machines dose you up with more radiation than the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
          Nice knowing you, folks.

          All my instincts were against getting this scan. I told the doctor that I was reluctant to do so, given recent news reports that some of the machines leak excessive amounts of radiation. He simply explained that the scan was needed in order to see the kidney stones better.
          Hey, Doc, didn’t they treat kidney stones before there were CT scans?
          Jesus H. Christ.
          What the doctor should have said was this:
          “I have also read those same reports. If you are wary of getting a CT scan, we can proceed with treatment based on the ultrasound.”
          Why didn’t he do this? Your first thought is also mine: that if I were to be treated without benefit of a CT scan, and the treatment went awry, I might sue for malpractice. Translation: doctor is thinking of his welfare---not mine. Not yours. Another thought: doctor is too dependent on technology, and can’t work without it.
          So I went ahead with the scan, against all my instincts. I am so pissed at myself for not trusting myself. Self, you’re such a dumbass. See, folks, I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome years ago, and it had me almost non-functional for over three years, a zombie from the planet Inertia, and it has permanently damaged my immune system. As I expected and predicted, recent studies have all but confirmed that CFS is caused by a virus. So today I am at greater risk of mortality from anything from the flu to. . .a CT scan. About 29,000 cancer deaths from such scans are forecast for those who had scans in 2007 alone.
          Don’t trust doctors. Don’t do what they say unquestioningly. They don’t know you. They don’t know your body. They very, very, very often do not listen to you. In fact, that’s the norm in my experience. They. Don’t. Listen. I was a reporter, as you know, and I take very careful mental notes on my condition. So when a doctor asks me to describe symptoms/pain/ injury, I am ready with a cogent, comprehensive account. Yet I am interrupted repeatedly while trying to relate this account, and am frequently asked questions that I have just answered without having been asked in the first place. Sherlock Holmes would have loved to have me for a client. To doctors, I am just a long-winded pain in the ass. Consider:
          A few months ago, I found myself raising my voice to a young doctor at UCLA, evaluating a lower back problem.
          “Look, you’re not listening to me, and it is making me very angry. I have already given you the information you asked for. It is obvious that you were not listening. You have your little checklist of questions, and you’re just ignoring anything else that I say. Now, I am going to tell you again what my situation is, and I want you to listen until I finish. I will not take long. Then you may ask questions based on what I have told you. Otherwise, I’m walking right out of here.”
          He listened. I have not gone back to him.
          I’m serious here. Doctors misdiagnose, abuse, prescribe drugs they should not prescribe, and probably beat their wives (and husbands.) One defense I hear is that “they are just as flawed as everyone else.” Maybe so, but everyone else is not charged with the responsibility of healing. I don’t remember the last doctor I spoke with who in any way seemed interested my explanation of symptoms, let alone my welfare. You’re a stat. X-symptom means X-test, X-treatment, X-rehearsed speech. No thinking, no analysis required. I take that back. My Chinese Medicine doctor, Jiling Hu, has tremendous compassion for her patients. A little care from her often does more to heal than a goddamn test and bottle of pills.
          Now, I haven’t suffered horrifically due to doctor negligence or abuse, as countless people have. My little episodes are fairly puny, for their injustice. But they are evidence enough to convince me that American medicine is very bad medicine. To wit:
          I had a severe shoulder problem last summer that ultimately landed me in the ER. After getting a prescription for physical therapy from a kinesiologist, I was advised to also see a spinal specialist for possible pinched nerve that might be worsening the problem. I knew immediately that a pinched nerve was not worsening the problem. I could just tell. I knew the problem stemmed entirely from my shoulder, and that it had been caused by irresponsible taiko drum lessons I took a few years ago. But I dutifully went to see the spinal guy, as I finally have insurance for the first time in 25 years, thanks to my wife’s policy.
          Dr. Spine shook my hand as if it was a freshly excreted turd, took X-rays, and said the problem was not only worsened by a pinched nerve, but might have been caused entirely by the pinched nerve. This was total madness. A pinched nerve in my neck had not caused a calcium deposit (caused by taiko playing) to explode. Yes, there is a narrowed nerve in one of my neck vertebrae, a very common condition, and it is asymptomatic. The calcium deposit had burst from repetitive stress, causing excruciating calcific rotator cuff tendonitis. It had as much to do with my spine as Rush Limbaugh has to do with humility.
          But Dr. Spine saw a cash cow with an insurance card, and prescribed traction and repeated visits. By the way, he was as creepy a human being as I have ever encountered. A cross between Dr. No and an undertaker. A necrophiliac undertaker. Could easily have played the Sinister Oriental Villain in a Boston Blackie movie. My shoulder healed up with therapy and is much better, no thanks to Dr. Spine. Funny how that “pinched nerve” is not bothering me.
          I’ve got a million of ‘em. There was an internist in the early ‘80’s who pronounced the lipoma on my back benign, then in a conversation weeks later, because I asked, allowed that “a certain number of them can turn malignant.” Whoops! I had decided against surgery on the basis of his use of the word, “benign.” I quickly changed my mind.
          Then there was the fine physician who asked if I was "depressed." Seeing as I had been canned from my job by a thoroughly despicable woman who made up a series of total, unabashed lies to justify the firing, and seeing as I was on unemployment with no idea what the hell to do next, yes, I was a bit down.
          “Yeah,” I said.
          “Try this,” he answered, tossing some samples at me. “It’s new stuff. Might help.”
          It was Prozac. Fortunately, I trusted my instincts at that time and threw it in the trash. Reading that the stuff could cause impotency increased the force of my throw.
          Then there was the “doctor” who scheduled me for a prostate biopsy 25 years ago. I got a second opinion from the best guy I could find at Cedars, and he said I was fine.      
          "Huh?” I said. “This other guy wants to do a biopsy.”
          Said the Cedars doc: “Well, I sure wouldn’t have one!”
          Get this: when I cancelled the biopsy, doc # 1 put on a big show about being “worried about you” and urged me repeatedly to go through with the procedure. I let him go on and on, trying to persuade me, as I could not believe my ears. I wanted to see how far he would take it. In the end, I still cancelled, and these are the exact words he spoke to me:
          “But I’ve already rented the machine!”
          Then there was a Santa Monica urologist who gave me Vioxx samples for inflammation, and we all now know that Vioxx is not only good for inflammation, but very good for causing strokes and heart attacks. That same doctor gave me a prostate exam that has traumatized me to the extent that I am reluctant to ever have another. Ready, people? This is straight out of an S&M porn site:
          “Doctor” had me up on the table, insisting that I be totally naked (why?) with “elbows at your knees.” A pretty picture, eh? Then he inserted, I would estimate, three full male fingers in my rectum and began pushing and prodding as if he had lost his credit card up there. This went on for approximately the duration of the American Civil War. At long last, I had to speak.
          “That’s ENOUGH!” I yelled. Or I would have yelled. The pain had reduced my voice to a growling whisper.
          At that point, you would have thought that the “doctor” would have taken the subtle hint, eh? But you know what he did, folks? Hide the kiddies. He began moving his fingers rapidly in and out of my rumdadum. Yes, you know, just like they do in the better parts of West Hollywood, for fun. I was so shocked that I didn’t know what to say. I’ve had a lot of prostate exams, but I’d never been sodomized before. “Doctor” stopped this action just before I crossed over into reaction mode, which would have resulted in my throwing him across the room. For starters.
          Some exam technique I didn’t understand? Har. I found out from another doctor during an annual physical that Dr. Rumdadum “has an anger problem, and many patients have complained about him.” What’s more, I was advised to find another prostate guy altogether. Did I sue? Right. A physician’s word against mine. “It was standard examination technique, your honor. . .”
          Doctors are not your friends, people. Not your friends. No more---and probably less---than a plumber or auto mechanic.
          Shall I go on?
          Yes, Rip, please do.
          My wife needed cataract surgery a couple years ago, entailing lens implants. She did lots and lots of research, went to a reputable surgeon, and assured herself that this surgery was not only necessary, but would go well and leave her vision vastly improved.
          The “doctor” put the wrong lens in one of her eyes!
          Then---this is just incredible---this quack insisted that there was nothing wrong. That her vision would just take time to adjust, that’s all. We strongly suspected that this was not the case, and my wife managed, through her own Sherlock Holmesian research and investigation (through one eye), to discover that yes, the guy had actually implanted the wrong goddamn lens. A “technician”---read: nice teenaged Latina---had given her an eye exam while her contac lenses were still in!
         No problem? Just take the wrong lens out and pop in a new one? Uh-uh. Scar tissue forms quickly, and there is a window of just a few days where such a switch can still be safely made. When my wife went back under the knife, there were no guarantees that she would come out of it with a functioning eyeball.
          Even more astounding, this “doctor” first tried to talk her into getting a second lens implanted over the incorrect one---to correct the vision!
          Well, she lucked out, and can still see.
          Wait, there's more:
          Some of you have read my column from last year, “Dr. Death,” but I’ll summarize it briefly. My neighbor was diagnosed with probable brain cancer---a glioma, the fastest-growing tumor extant. Seizures landed her in the hospital, where doctors wanted to immediately biopsy (and remove) the tumor---but were overruled. That’s correct, overruled---by her HMO-appointed ghoul who. . .discharged her from the hospital! No, I’m not spinning this to make the doctor look bad. That’s what he did---discharged her. A woman with a glioma with immediate need for surgery. He said the situation was not dire(!), and that she needed to get a lot of tests. Well, this dragged on for two months, during which time Dr. Death’s office lost paperwork, rescheduled tests, and my neighbor’s terrible symptoms (horrific headache, memory loss) worsened.
          I got deeply involved in the situation, and it quickly became clear that the HMO “doctor” had actually decided to let my neighbor die in order to save the insurance company money. Cynical appraisal? Hardly. I spoke with a friend who is also a glioma patient who explained that this is absolutely typical of HMO situations, and that he has lost friends to gliomas because of similar “care” from “doctors.”
          Physician, go fuck thyself.
          In the end, I got my neighbor admitted to UCLA Emergency, which enabled bypassing the HMO, and facilitated quick surgery. The entire tumor was removed and she is currently doing well.
          Anyone---repeat, anyone---who defends the trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry/insurance industry/test-happy physician juggernaut over the idea of free or low-cost universal health care in this country needs to be horsewhipped. (Beginning with Little Joey Lieberman, as duplicitous a human being to ever hold public office in this nation.) Although I must add that my decades without health insurance and health care might have put years on my life, given the ineptitude of doctors.
          I could go on and on. So I will. Here’s another little tale. I finally went to a renowned specialist in Beverly Hills for stomach problems, after five years of suffering and “treatment” by other “doctors.” I’d already had one endoscopy, been on proton-pump inhibitors, changed my diet, but nothing, absolutely nothing, stopped the acid, or pain. I told the new doctor very clearly that the last thing I wanted was to be given the same tests again, and then be told what I already knew: that I had chronic acid reflux resulting in chronic ulcer-like agony. I wanted to know the cause, and what I could do to solve the problem once and for all. (Isn’t this what a physician is supposed to do?) The doctor nodded and smiled. She had a nice smile, at least. You already know the outcome:
          I had all the same goddamn tests again, including endoscopy and colonoscopy, and was told exactly what I already knew. What’s more, the doctor didn’t even have the decency to tell me this information, herself. She had one of her little cheery office girly robots leave a message on my answering machine.
          And then there was my friend, Frank Zappa, whose urologist told him he was "drinking too much coffee." Zappa died a few years later from prostate cancer.
          Doctors are the enemy. Yes, there are good ones. Yes, there are great ones. Yes, sometimes you have no choice but to go to the doctor. But when you have a choice, and alternatives. . .when there are other steps to be taken first. . .
          Don’t go.
          I hope these do not prove to be my famous last words on the subject.

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