I have an appointment with a rheumatologist!
Here’s what it took to get it:
1. Obamacare gave me access to good health insurance. When my financial situation changed, for the worse, I was automatically enrolled in Medicaid (which is called Med-Cal here in California.) Note: I was in my 40′s when this happened. So – all the years previous – I couldn’t afford to try and get doctors to help me figure out what was wrong with me. At best, I was sometimes able to afford to see a doctor and try to talk them into giving me antibiotics when I had a sinus infection (which would happen at least three times a year.)
2. Got a doctor (more on that in a bit) that was part of the Medi-Cal network. This meant I could afford to be seen by a doctor because my appointments were free. My allergy medication was free (including my Epi-Pen and inhaler).
3. Doctor K. referred me for a blood test to see if I had rheumatoid arthritis (by my request). Again – free! All I had to do was walk down the hallway and get the blood taken. The results were negative, meaning I did not have rheumatoid arthritis. However, this result did not magically stop my joints from aching, swelling, locking, and/or being extremely painful.
4. Doctor K. had that same blood draw tested to see what my vitamin D levels were. Turned out they were incredibly low. She prescribed me some really strong vitamin D to take once a week. Again – free! She monitored my vitamin D levels with more blood tests (again – free!) until I got almost on the lower edge of normal levels. From that point on, I started taking over-the-counter vitamin D (not free – not covered by Medi-Cal). I will have to keep taking a rather large amount of that forever.
5. My joints were still aching, swelling, locking, and/or being painful. So, we ruled out that the problem was due to a vitamin D deficiency. One of the blood tests revealed a HUGE allergy to latex (which I told Doctor K about – I guess she needed conformation). Doctor K expressed sadness that I was “stuck with” all my terrible allergies. They cannot be cured.
6. What turned out to be my last appt. with Doctor K resulted in her prescribing me Flonase – in addition to all of my other allergy/inflammation stuff. We discussed on past visits that I needed a rheumatologist. Doctor K told me that she spoke with the rheumatologist (who is part of the Medi-Cal network) and that he was considering seeing me. All I could do was wait and see if he chose to see me as a patient – and to wait to see if Medi-Cal would cover it. She made an appointment for me to see her again in December (three months later) to check on how the Flonase was working for me.
7. I call the clinic that I’d been going to, in an attempt to determine whether or not the rheumatologist, Doctor B, had assigned me an appointment. Doctor B only comes to the clinic in my town a couple of days a week, and I was told he does half-days.
8. The call center tells me that no one at the clinic actually submitted my request to see Doctor B to Medi-Cal. So, they go ahead and do that. All the time I was waiting was completely useless. But, at least now I know that it got submitted. I was told that someone would call me to let me know if Medi-Cal would cover it and if Doctor B would see me.
9. Nobody calls. So, after waiting for a while, I call again. I tell the guy at the call center that I’m calling about an appointment. The appointment he sees on his computer tells him that I am no longer a patient of Doctor K, and have been assigned to Doctor N. This was a complete surprise!
It turned out that Doctor K had been re-assigned to a town far away from me, so the clinic automatically assigned me to Doctor N. After trying to sort things out with call center guy, and letting him know I was trying to find out whether or not I was getting an appointment with Doctor B, the rheumatologist, I learn more.
First, Doctor K (and Doctor N) aren’t doctors – they were physicians assistants or something like that. Call center guy, after hearing about my health issues, suggests that I need a REAL doctor, and suggests Doctor C. He keeps the December appointment with Doctor N, and gives me an appointment with Doctor C for two days from then. (I can either keep Doctor C, or move to physicians assistant Doctor N if I don’t like Doctor C.)
Also, call center guy, after learning I am going through the process of getting approved for disability, states that disability won’t take anything unless it is from a doctor – not a physician’s assistant (etc).
10. Doctor C turns out to be nice, knowledgable, and efficient. He quickly ascertained that I am doing everything possible for my allergies, that they cannot be cured, and that there is nothing more I can do. “Too bad for you.” he said, shaking his head. I am now established with Doctor C.
11. Today, I get a call from the clinic – or rather, an extension of the clinic (so to speak). It is from Doctor B’s office. Medi-Cal approved my seeing a rheumatologist, and Doctor B decided to take me as a patient. He’s clearly a busy guy, so I figure the only reason he would take me is because from what Doctor K told him, I had something serious going on with my joints. I called back and now have an appointment with a rheumatologist – at the end of January.
12. I then call the clinic and cancel the appointment with Doctor N, making it clear that I am now a patient of Doctor C (as my primary care doctor).
How long did this take? First appointment with Doctor K was January 28. About a year later, I get to see the specialist I need. This was made possible because I could afford to see the doctor (Thanks, Obama!) and because I am both pushy and very well educated on exactly what my health is like. This happened because I am a strong medical advocate for myself and unwilling to put up with doctors who will not listen to me. I was super lucky that both Doctor K and Doctor C are awesome.