About six weeks ago, while in clinic, I developed pain in my stomach — specifically, in my right upper quadrant, just below the ribs. I had experienced this a few times before, but this time it seemed more persistent than usual. Following the rule that physicians make the worst patients, I kept working through it until my nurse told me I looked poorly, and made me see my own primary care doc. This led to an ultrasound that afternoon, a diagnosis of gallstones with mild acute cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder). I was in the surgeon’s office the next week, and in the OR a week after that. Fortunately, I had an uncomplicated laparoscopic surgery, and was home within 24 hours.
Things are fine now. I was back at work within a few days, and was fortunate to have received prompt and effective care. However, I realize that my experiences are not typical. I am a physician, and my primary care physician is one of my partners: I was seen the same day because I was part of the “family” of docs with whom I work. The ultrasound was arranged two hours after my doc saw me. My surgery was scheduled so quickly in part because someone else’s elective procedure was bumped to make room for me. If I had been an average person calling my primary care doc for belly pain (or presenting to the ER with the same complaints) I doubt this process would have been this efficient. I was fortunate to have privilege on my side: the privilege of being a healthcare professional, in his own system, knowledgeable about how to make the system work to my advantage.