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An Apple a Day

By Spencer Bennington
Guardian contributor

Photo courtesy the internet.

Photo courtesy the internet.

“Why am I here,” she asked. A simple question with innumerable possible answers. All he had to do was choose one that reflected the goals of his profession. All he had to do was speak kindly.

This past week has been a rough one for me and my parents. My grandmother recently fell in her home and was trapped in her floor hours before a neighbor found her. After months of worsening neuropathy in her feet complicated with inner ear balance issues, Ma-maw had finally decided that enough was enough. It was time to move into an assisted living facility.

The facility staff was more than helpful in every step of the planning stages—they made house calls and explained paperwork, they offered their services in moving Ma-maw’s furniture, they even assured Ma-maw that her favorite beautician would be allowed to come to the facility to provide her weekly haircut that she loved so much. Everything seemed pleasant, smooth even. Yes, my grandmother was going to have to move out of her home which she has kept up for 56 years, but we all agreed that she was travelling to a place where her best interests were in mind.

“We’ll need to make sure that your doctor signs off on some paperwork,” they said, “and then you’ll be all set.”

One final piece of red tape and Ma-maw could move on with her life instead of staying in the awkward limbo of having to depend on her daughter for basic daily tasks—bathing and visiting the bathroom included.

But, unfortunately, one particularly egomaniacal doctor decided to transform this tiny red tape into an overarching scarlet hurdle. One that Ma-maw was physically incapable of jumping. He insisted that my now wheel-chair bound grandmother come to his office so that he could administer the physical and sign off on the paperwork. Perhaps this wouldn’t seem so unnecessary if she hadn’t just been in his office for a full physical and chest x-ray two weeks prior.

Even though I have no respect for the man, we’ll call him Dr. J just to protect his identity. In case you’re wondering, the J is for “jackass.” When Dr. J walked into the examination room, when he was face-to-face with a woman who had been enduring humiliation all week and who had just nearly fainted from anxiety while I had to physically carry her from her home, he was faced with a simple question.

“Why am I here?” Ma-maw asked with just as stable a mind as she’s ever had.

With more flippancy and derisiveness than I thought humanly possible, Dr. J stood over her and said, “This is how I make my money. You don’t expect me to work for free do you?”

I sat there, blood boiling, trying not to shank this idiot with a tongue depressor for the sake of my grandmother.

“I can’t bill Medicare if I just fill out the paperwork,” he said. “And honestly, I’m losing money anyway as long as this stuff takes me—I might make fifteen bucks off the whole deal.”

He said, “of course I know the answers to these questions, I just saw you a couple weeks ago.”

Stay in your chair. Say nothing. She needs these papers signed.

He said, “now hop on up here to the examination table.”


I wish I’d had the courage to strangle him with his own stethoscope and ask when exactly he took his hypocritical oath? I wanted to tell him that no patient deserves to feel like their time is worth less than fifteen measly dollars, that if he had any decency he wouldn’t put a near invalid through torture just to pad his pocketbook, that…

But I didn’t. Because Ma-maw needed those papers signed so she could move on with her life. So she didn’t have to feel responsible for me and my family taking off of work to feed her, to bathe her, to protect her in her own home.

I didn’t eat my apple yesterday, but I sure as hell wish I did.

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Responses (6)

  1. Shameful. I had a similar feeling when I took my daughter to an orthodontist we had been seeing for years. She ordered an x-ray. When I said we could only get the x-ray if insurance would cover it she replied, with her hands in my 12 year old daughters mouth, “we’ll see how that works for you when you get cancer.”

  2. Belinda Perkinson says:

    OH, YES, we had a similar experience with my dad’s doctor. She’s very lucky we were all so beaten down dealing with his Alzheimer’s; otherwise, there could have been an assault. I couldn’t believe the way this DOCTOR (do no harm) talked about him out of hand as if he was a stray dog, certainly less than human. It’s been two years, and I still burn every time I think about our last wonderful visit with her. I, too, had to struggle not to say anything because we needed her sign off on HOSPICE. It was an awful experience!

  3. Becky Zseng says:

    WELL DONE, Spence!

  4. Carol Collins says:

    I am curious: Is this MD still going to be your Grandmother’s physician? Get help in finding a new physician who gladly treats the elderly. I asked a gerontologist years ago when my mother moved here for such a recommendation. As a result of his recommendation, she got a great physician!

  5. Tim Harris says:

    Good job Spencer you are putting a face on medical professional abuse either physical or emotional it hurts the patients and their families.

  6. Carol–my mother and I are finding her a new physician currently so that she’ll never have to endure that kind of disrespect again. To relieve the readers a little bit, Dr. J is not a practicing physician in Greenville at this time. I hope soon that he decides it best to discontinue his practice altogether as he’s clearly not helping anyone but himself.

    Thanks for your kind words everyone.

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