I never had those relationships because I did the most boneheaded thing I’ve ever done: I didn’t see a doctor for years. If I had gone, I probably wouldn’t have had a stroke and wouldn’t be doing this blog chronicling my new life with a TBI.
So here we are, with me writing about the value of of a good doctor and a good caregiver. I was lucky enough to stumble upon both a great primary care doctor and a great caregiver, so I can’t really offer much advice on how to find either; all I can really do is to tell you how I found my own doctor and caregiver.
Here’s how that happened.
After my stroke, I was forced to relocate from St. Paul, Minnesota to Tacoma, Washington; one of the first things I did was register with a social services agency. They required that I have a physical evaluation and referred me to a medical clinic that was on their approved list.
I went from there to the clinic, not knowing what to expect since I hadn’t seen a doctor in ages, and really not looking forward to finding out.
After a long wait I was seen by Dr. Louis Enkema, a genuinely kind man. We hit it off instantly. I was pleasantly surprised that he spent time talking to me as a person, and not as if I was an experimental lab rat. Over the years, I had heard from people whose doctors were cold and impersonal; this was not the case with Dr. Enkema.
At the appointment, Dr. Enkema gave me a pretty thorough physical exam: X-rays, heart and lungs, hearing–the full monty. And every step of the way he made sure I knew what was going on and asked me questions to make sure I did. We had a fantastic conversation where he asked me questions about myself and my life. He took the time to really get to know me, and he told me about his personal life in turn.
Dr. Enkema made a sincere effort to get to know and understand me.
I knew right away that he was going to be my regular doctor and I was going to see him every chance I got. In the months since, he has welcomed me to come in and talk any time, not just when I have something scheduled with him. He always makes me feel like he’s more than my primary care doctor; he’s also my friend, and he places a high value on my well being. He is always positive, always upbeat, and very supportive. He’s always willing to give me good answers to my questions and encourages me to ask them. I’ve written before that my doctor is fully supportive of my self-care efforts; Dr. Enkema was that doctor.
My only criticism is that he doesn’t have a jar of lollipops in the office.
The other stroke of good luck I had was that my dear old college friend Nancy lives in Tacoma. We had been in and out of touch over the years, and it took me a few days to realize we were now in the same city. I had her number in my phone, called her and found she didn’t live very far away from where I was.
It turned out Nancy had acquired lots of medical knowledge over the years and named herself, my medical adviser.
I call her my dear friend and my caregiver.
I met Dr. Enkema and reconnected with Nancy in the span of a few short days.
Nancy has driven me to my medical appointments as well as sat in during visits with Dr. Enkema. Nancy’s made valuable recommendations about my diet, tells me things about my prescriptions, and generally keeps me on the straight and narrow. Although we don’t live together, she’s always there when I need something I can’t do for myself.
While I can’t give advice on how to find a good doctor or caregiver as good as the ones I have, I can suggest some qualities to look for based on the strengths Dr. Enkema and Nancy share.
These are qualities apart from medical knowledge and competence. Sure, you want them to know what they’re doing, but try if you can to get the full package.
I think you can get caregivers through state agencies that are trained and certified. Before you commit to one, I’d say try to meet with them first, explain what you are looking for and see how well you hit it off.
Try to interview your prospective caregiver.
From what I understand, it might be possible to go through the same preliminary process with a doctor as well.
Or you can do what I did, and just be incredibly lucky.
Isaac Peterson grew up on an Air Force base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. After graduating from the University of Wyoming, he embarked on a career as an award-winning investigative journalist and as a semi-professional musician in the Twin Cities, the place he called home on and off for 35 years. He also doesn’t mind it at all if someone offers to pick up his restaurant tab. Peterson also welcomes reader comments. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.