Monthly Archives: July 2014

Is He Finnish? Or am I Finished?


catviaggenericumMy first appointment with a new primary care doctor last week was pretty unremarkable. He’s the second new doc in as many years, the result of our moving way uptown a couple of years ago and changing insurance providers, and then once again a year later, thanks to the vagaries of the Affordable Care Act and another insurance change. I think I’m settled for now.

Finding a new doctor isn’t easy, but thanks to online review and evaluation sites, I was able to choose one with a good reputation. His name was spelled a little oddly. A fairly common surname, it was not spelled the way it usually is, which made me wonder if he was foreign.

The exam went without a hitch, although the visit to the phlebotomist for my blood labs was, “interesting,” to say the least. She greeted me in Spanish, ¿Habla español? to which I answered, in Italian, Non parlo spagnolo; parlo italiano.

Her response was just the type of response I might expect from a fire hydrant, had I been speaking to one, (especially since she more or less looked like one: three feet tall and two feet wide): she stared blankly at me for several seconds, before continuing the dialog in Spanish. I understand enough Spanish to know what she was saying, and although I consistently answered her in English, she persisted in Spanish.

Eventually all the eleven or so tubes in her little tray were filled with my precious blood and as that was my last procedure for the day, I got to go home and (FINALLY!) have breakfast.

A few days later, I got a printout of the lab results in the mail, and everything looked good: nothing outside the normal ranges for any of the tests, that I could see. On the report, the doctor had placed hand-written notes here and there, in the worst all-caps script ever, even for a doctor — and I worked with doctors’ handwriting for two decades at Beth Israel Hospital. I couldn’t make out a word, and I quickly found myself wondering, “What’s with all these J’s? English doesn’t use that many J’s,” which led me to think once again that he was foreign, and possibly writing in Finnish. None of the words made sense.

Next to one lab result I saw what looked like “LDW UJTAWJW O” and after puzzling over it for several minutes, I gave up trying to read any of his notes.

It was after I received a text message from my pharmacy that Saturday, alerting me to a prescription that was ready to be picked up, that I really began to wonder what he had written.

My pharmacy is really great: they refill prescriptions automatically without my having to remember them, and they text me when they are ready, indicating the first two letters of the drug being refilled. The text I got this time was for a prescription I didn’t recognize. It read “Your prescription beginning with the initials VI is ready to be picked up.”

I was confused. I wasn’t expecting any prescriptions at all, and certainly not one for Viagra. In fact, I was a little confused as to how the doc might have somehow inferred I needed Viagra and then taken it upon himself to prescribe it for me. Maybe it was just a mistake: possibly the prescription was meant for another of his patients, but it somehow got sent to my pharmacy for me. Was that even remotely possible? I hoped not.

It was Saturday when I got the text, and since the doctor’s office was closed, I thought I’d call the pharmacy to check out that angle: after all, it could have been the pharmacy’s error. That was another frightening thought I didn’t like contemplating.

I told the pharmacist why I was calling, but when she checked into it she assured me that my doctor had prescribed it for me; no, there was no doubt. I never mentioned what I thought the prescription was for, nor did the pharmacist name it, and that settled it in my mind: It was for Viagra, and the pharmacist was as embarrassed for me as I was for myself! “Well, thank you for checking. I’m sorry to bother you. It’s just that I wasn’t expecting any prescriptions just now, and certainly not one for that!” <click>

Now I would have to wait until Monday to call the doctor’s office, and that would probably be its own comedy of errors, as the first person I reached on the phone would most likely misunderstand the reason for my call altogether.

I imagined the following conversation:

(I would explain the reason for my call.)

“You want a prescription for Viagra, Mr. D? You have to speak to the doctor for that.”

“No, no. My pharmacy told me there is a prescription for Viagra waiting for me, one that the doctor submitted, but I don’t think it was meant for me. I think it was meant for someone else and I don’t want that person to wonder what happened to it.”

‘I can’t write a prescription for you, Mr. D. You have to speak to the doctor.”

“No, you don’t under… Ok, yes, can I speak to the doctor?”

“I’m sorry. He’s with a patient.”

(Of course: they’re always with a patient except for when you are the patient, waiting patiently [sic] in the waiting room, wondering when you’ll be the one who’s “with the doctor.”)

Still, I would have to call on Monday and fight through the language barrier and red tape, to get an answer: either it was a mistake and meant for someone else, or the doctor had somehow decided I needed Viagra. That second option was too unsettling: he and I had had no discussions that would have led him to believe that was the case. What could he have read into my lab results?

(At the same time, the still-adolescent — but subsequently long-retired — experimental drug taker in me was wondering how much fun it would be to try a little Viagra…)

In another effort to analyze the lab results to see if anything there would clarify the matter, I went back to the report and scoured the results for a clue. On doing so, I did notice that one result on the very last page was a little shy of the normal range: the test showed a result of 26, and the normal range was between 30 and 100, so that was low. Could that have been it? I continued to let my mind wander back to this over the rest of the weekend.

And, later, in the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning, at my usual 3-AM-wake-up to pee, the fog began to clear. I went to my desk and looked at the report again. Somehow at that hour my mind always seems to become more acute, astute and adroit. I looked at the single lab result that was off. It was for “D 25 OH D3.”

Looking again at the doctor’s hand-written note next to this I understood it with sudden total clarity. Feeling as adept as Alan Turing at deciphering code, I was now able to read all the gibberish the doc had written everywhere on the report and make sense of everything. What I saw as J’s were I’s, the O’s were D’s and vice-versa; and the W’s could be either M’s or N’s — or W’s — take your pick or infer which from the context…


So then, “LDW UJTAWJW O” was really “LOW VITAMIN D” and the doc had prescribed VItamin D tablets. I laughed out loud at my assumption about what I thought had been prescribed, and my chuckling kept me awake for a long time.

As the final irony, on Monday right after I picked up my vitamin D, I got a text from the doctor alerting me to the fact that he had prescribed it.

Ultimately, afterward, a small disappointment descended on me. Vitamin D was no Viagra. Not even close.

I couldn’t help but feel a little let down [sic], because, after all, as my forebears used to say, “Hail, Priapus!

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