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May-05-2014 09:17printcomments

Farewell Miss Lewis -- We Will Miss Your Happy Smile

After spending our lives placing our faith in doctors, it is very difficult to disagree when one tells us we are fine.

Salem-News.com

(EUGENE) - For the past fifteen years I have been having my hair cut at the local beauty college. For those unaware, one can have their hair done at these colleges at a fraction of the cost of regular salons. The quality is sometimes unpredictable, but working with the students can be fun and we are helping them learn. Students come and go, but over the years I have come to know the instructors and staff. Students are required to refer to the staff and instructors and staff members as “Miss” or “Mister”. About a month ago while having my haircut one of the instructors, Miss Lewis, stopped by to chat. She did not look well and appeared to be under lots of stress. When I asked her if something was bothering her, she told me she wasn’t feeling well and was having lots of pain below her ribs. She said she had been to her doctor, but he didn’t find anything wrong.

When someone tells me they feel ill, but their doctor can’t find anything wrong the red flag goes up. I have learned the hard way that when doctors tell us they can’t find anything wrong, that is exactly what it means—they can’t find anything wrong. It does not mean there isn’t anything wrong. Unfortunately, in many cases they just haven’t made the effort to properly diagnose the problem. The reasons for this vary considerably. I asked Miss Lewis if her doctor had done any testing, such as ultrasound or x-ray of her abdomen to try to find the source of the problem. I was not surprised when she told me that he had not done any testing.

Because the world of medicine and healthcare has become just another profit-generating machine, office staff and computer systems tightly control every doctor’s time and provide terrible distractions. Doctors are under lots of pressure to make quick decisions, often based upon meager information. Still, their level of incompetence and actual danger to our health and lives is staggering. I once read that more people die each year due to doctor error than die in auto accidents.

Because of Miss Lewis’ obvious distress, I asked if she had a gastroenterologist. She said she did, so recommended she call his office, explain her symptoms, and request they order ultrasounds of her abdomen. The pain must have been severe because she immediately turned and headed for the office to use the phone. The student had completed my haircut, so I left before learning the results of my friend’s call.

A few days ago I returned to the college for another haircut. The two women at the front desk were not their normal cheerful selves and I could sense something was terribly wrong. I asked them how things were going and without smiling one said they had problems. Just then the student who had cut my hair the previous time, and who had heard me talk with Miss Lewis, arrived and said she was ready for me. As we walked back to her work station she told me that Miss Lewis had died. I was in shock as I asked her what had happened. She said that Miss Lewis had done as I suggested and called her gastroenterologist, who saw her the next day and discovered that she was suffering from lung cancer. Miss Lewis had quit smoking many years ago. She was immediately referred to an oncologist who administered six hours of chemotherapy. She then underwent more testing that revealed the cancer had spread throughout her body. The student found solace knowing that Miss Lewis had died peacefully in her sleep.

Because some types of cancer are so aggressive, we will never know if Miss Lewis might have survived had her primary doctor listened to her and taken appropriate action. We do know that her doctor was negligent and passed up the opportunity to try to save her life. In today’s unbelievably complex and dangerous world of healthcare, I believe it is every person’s responsibility to manage his or her own healthcare. After spending our lives placing our faith in doctors, it is very difficult to disagree when he tells us we are fine.

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    Wayne was born in a small farm town in California's San Joaquin Valley. At age ten, he moved with his family to San Jose, California, which at the time had a population of 50,000 and was surrounded by orchards--mostly prunes. At age twenty, he joined IBM, one of the first electronic plants that would evolve into what we know today as Silicon Valley. Most of his college education was acquired through part-time classes while sometimes working ten hours a day. Wayne started on the bottom in the magnetic disk manufacturing facility, which produced the large disks for the earlier IBM computer systems. These magnetically coated disks would evolve into what we know today as hard drives. Wayne's last assignment with IBM was setting up their first inkjet printer lab that became what we know today as the Lexmark printer business. After his retirement from IBM, he wrote human interest stories for a small town newspaper.

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