The doctor is out

  • Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
  • Thursday, October 25, 2001 9:00pm
  • Local News

They weren’t like Dr. Lockwood, the pediatrician of my childhood. They didn’t show up at your house if you got the mumps. Doctors don’t do that anymore. No one gets the mumps anymore, either.

Winds of change long ago blew away the kind of medical care I knew as a kid. Mine is probably the last generation to recall a midnight house call, a black bag at your bedside, an expert hand on a fevered forehead.

These days, the family doctor seems a quaint piece of midcentury history. Many of us now have no choice but to pick some "primary care physician" from a list sanctioned by an employer’s health plan.

At least I have had a port in the storm. Since the early 1980s, my children and I have been served by doctors at the Everett Family Practice Center.

They weren’t like Dr. Lockwood, but they knew us.

So I was none too happy to get a letter this week "to regretfully inform you that, after 24 years of care and service to the community, Everett Family Practice Center is closing its doors."

The letter blamed a trio of troubles: an exodus of doctors, the sinking economy, and tight insurance reimbursements. For me, it meant a new pain in the neck added to a health care headache I was already suffering.

This summer I got a letter saying that Dr. Rajka Milanovic — my doctor — was leaving Everett Family Practice. I was already trying to figure out whether she would still be included in my health plan at her new location and whether I should follow her or stay where I knew other doctors.

Now this. I feel medically homeless, adrift.

I know there are other wonderful doctors in our community, and many of them are on my insurer’s list. Still, I had found someone I liked. My son’s doctor is also at Everett Family Practice. Leaving a place where I’ve been a patient for 20 years will be painful.

Plus, I have to change all those emergency contact phone numbers with schools and my child care provider. It sounds like a small thing. For someone with too much to do already, it is not a small thing.

Whenever I’d visit the center, either to see my own doctor or take one of the kids to theirs, the nurses and other staff would greet us by name. "Hi, how are you? Isn’t he getting big?" Again, a small thing. But it’s not a small thing.

A few years ago, I called out of the blue for an appointment. The receptionist for my physician at the time, Dr. Frederick Kimball, asked what the problem was. I discreetly (from my office phone) said I was fairly certain I was expecting another baby. The response was something like, "HOW old are you now, Julie?"

The receptionist knew me well enough by phone to know I was old enough to require the services of Milanovic, who apparently had expertise in what a peek at my chart later revealed to be "elderly maternity."

That all turned out fine.

Here’s how well I was treated. The morning after my husband died, my doctor apparently saw a newspaper that contained his obituary. My phone rang at 9 a.m.

It was Milanovic, asking me to come see her. I protested, saying I was really fine. She insisted.

When I got there, this doctor who I know is under pressure to keep appointments brief sat down with me for, I don’t know, maybe 45 minutes. She just talked, and let me talk.

How are you? OK, I guess.

Can you sleep? A little. (I lied.)

I left feeling better. Not a whole lot better, but better.

Small thing? Not to me.

Oh, we’ll survive. The closure of Everett Family Practice Center won’t kill us.

It has taught me something. For years, I’ve been skipping over all this convoluted news about health care takeovers and other people’s insurance hassles. Somebody else’s problem, I’d think.

When it happens to you, it’s a whole different deal. And it’s not a small thing.

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