What follows is a not a philosophical meandering on wealth. It’s way more important than money. We’re talking about my medical records.

An odd situation occurred with my internist nearly two years ago. After nine years as his patient, I found out he was actually “renting a chair” (in beauty salon parlance). From his demeanor, expertise, and superior skill as a physician, I had always believed he was the senior partner in the group. The other doctors deferred to him and the staff adored him.

And, for good reason. He is an excellent internist. Once, I was admitted for a suspected second spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD). My internist is the one who walked into my hospital room, lifted a plain old chest x-ray to the light, and said: “her sternum has fractures up and down it.” No WONDER I’d been hurting for more than a year.

But on a random day in 2010, I called for a non-urgent appointment and was told he’d taken an indefinite leave of absence. I panicked. I cried. I could not believe it. The man who actually understood the complete picture of my cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurological, gastro, and gynecological health was gone. Literally vanished. They would not tell me what happened or where he went. (They would, however, schedule me with one of their docs. I declined.)

I slogged onward. Figured I’d just see my specialists when required and hope for the best. I learned specialists are like your best girlfriends when you’re out for wine on a Thursday night. A little bit naughty! They dished. There was no personal crisis. My internist was the type that didn’t want to be “the boss.” He wanted to care for patients, admirably enough. So, when the last practice had decided to go concierge and he didn’t want to, it was “here’s your hat, what’s your hurry.” Out. On the street. No patients, and no legal means to contact us.

l felt cheated, and was angry. But the word from the gastro was confirmed by the pulmonologist. My doctor was well. His wife was well. He had served his time in purgatory and landed in a practice run by our hospital health care system. Phew.

In anticipation of a sinus infection or the like, I requested my records be transferred. Months passed, I stayed well, so finally decided I better have a “let’s get reacquainted” visit. It was an awkward appointment … like being trapped in an elevator with someone you dated at the beach, but who never called in September. Even worse, my medical records had never arrived.

Ever since my days as a Navy dependent, my medical records have been a source of stress. In the late 1970s, my chart for years birth through 12 was sent to a desert installation and incinerated by some administrative stepchild of BUPERS. Still to this day, it bothers me. No record of my birth in the Philippines. Nothing about my childhood asthma. My severed finger? Just family folklore.

So in this lifetime, I take the bull by the horns. I walk into the former office and state that my records request was never honored, and I’d like them NOW. (Smile.)

I write my name on a post-it for the receptionist, she goes to the files, and reappears with my chart. It is really ugly. The chart is exploding with the inner subcharts of pockets and pages bursting forth. Standard issue brown. I’m thinking, “That’s mine. That’s my chart.” The manager joined the conversation, saying “I see the request, but it was never done. We can make you a copy.”

I stood staring at it, thinking, “That is MY chart. My story is in there. It has nothing to do with these people.” (Technically speaking, the chart belongs to my doctor at his new office.) I thought back to when I had “sticky note status” at the scheduling desk. My name on that sticky note posted on the wall meant I went to the head of the line. I was special, a rare case of SCAD. It didn’t matter if I was actually calling about sinus trouble, I was on the top of the heap.

But no longer.

“You have to pay for copies.” The absurdity of it, snapped me into action. “To transfer to another doctor, it should be free.” No, she said, that’s not how we do it.

“I’ll pay you the fee, but just give me the chart” was my bold counter offer. The office manager actually went around the corner and asked the doctor! Of course, the answer was no. “It belongs to Dr. G. He was your doctor’s employer.”

I just couldn’t stop looking at that sorry, brown, floppy chart, dripping with reports and notes. I surrendered and paid. At that point, the most ridiculous words of the entire exchange were uttered. Clearly dreading the task, the receptionist said, “How much of it do you want?”

Ah, let me think. “All of it.”

Oh, and a follow-up: the former office called today and said they’d faxed it to my doctor.

I didn’t get my medical records after all.

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