There is a patient that has been on my mind this year.I was fired as her doctor. I have had two patients fire me. The first was a sweet little old lady with mild cognitive impairment that wasn’t too cognitively impaired to realize I was moving in on her drivers license and switched to another clinic. She sent me a card though letting me know she switched clinics, wishing me the best and left me a teddy bear for my baby. The second one was much tougher. It was definitely the toughest initial OB visit I’ve ever had. I was in there over an hour. She was a mom with 9 kids at home and a partner who was controlling and emotionally abusive. She was late onset to prenatal care and came in maxing out the anxiety and depressive scales in the office. She was basically the sole caretaker of her kids, and worried constantly about things like if she passed out in the tub, who would take care of her kids? We talked a lot and luckily I had a no show following her. I thought we were developing a good rapport when she told me she had worked for 3 days straight without sleeping at a huge event downtown. On further discussion, I found she screened positive for possible bipolar disorder. I patted myself on the back for being a good primary care doc and sent her to psychiatry for further evaluation. She missed her psychiatry appointment, but occasionally made it back to see me. We left a lot of our appointments frustrated – most of her problems were so complex I wanted to refer her out multiple times, but she had trouble with transportation to our specialists and finding someone to watch the kids at those times, so they never happened. Every time she came into the office and we tried to fix one problem, three more would pop up. She was taking illicit prescription medications for chronic back pain and smoking marijuana, and was frustrated I wouldn’t prescribe her buprenorphine without a referral (our clinic wasn’t doing buprenorphine at the time) and I was frustrated she wouldn’t consider psychiatric medications for her fear of harming her baby, yet continued to smoke cigarettes, marijuana, and use the pain pills. She was frustrated at me because all I could offer was Tylenol and more referrals. I bent over backwards for her. Our OB coordinator pulled strings so we could have 40 minute appointments together – which is something I have never done for any other patient. When she wouldn’t go to specialists, I would call them on the phone for recommendations. I was prepared to put her on lithium at one point with the guidance of a perinatal psychiatrist over the phone.
She fired me because she didn’t think I was doing anything for her chronic pain, and because I was always kicking her partner out of the room to ask if she was safe. She told our OB coordinator she didn’t care who delivered her baby as long as it wasn’t me. I found out later that she delivered at a different hospital system, and as far as our OB coordinator knew everything went well.
I was her doctor before I had my baby. Since then, I think of her every once in a while when I am overwhelmed by working and taking care of one little peanut with a supportive partner in the house. I think about our discussions of her working days on end without sleep – although that might go along with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I also wonder if I was pathologizing her motherhood and what she had to do to support her family. I think about her inability to make appointments and her worries about what would happen to her children if she was gone. I think about what it must be like to have to choose to stay with a nasty partner who will provide at least some financial stability and a house for all your children versus turning to a system that will assuredly break your family apart in an attempt to provide safety and security.
I think of her often, and wish her the best.
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