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Votes

Column: E-male

My oncologist is a man. He has e-mail. He works for an HMO that encourages/advertises its connectivity and responsiveness – electronically, to its members. If I want to get medical answers in a reasonable amount of time – save for an emergency, typing, “mousing” and clicking is the recommended methodology. No more phone calls, preferably. Though pressing keys on a keyboard rather than pressing buttons on a phone might have felt counter-intuitive at first as a means of receiving prompt replies, it has proven over these past few years to be a fairly reliable and predictable information loop. Not in minutes necessarily, but more often than not during the same day – and almost always by the very next day. In fact, I’ve received e-mails from my oncologist as late as 9:18 p.m. (time-stamped) after a sometime-during-the-day e-mail had been sent. The content of the sent e-mail has almost always been helpful or constructive, even instructive concerning the issue at hand. I’ve never felt disconnected, though; alone maybe, but that’s more because, other than our three cats, there is rarely anyone else at home with me. Being a salesman can sometimes be a solitary pursuit. And though there are many advantages – freedom and independence being the two most important, occasionally you find yourself alone with your thoughts, literally.

Attempting to speak directly with my oncologist during the day – at my convenience, given the too-numerous-to-list responsibilities of his non-stop, double-booked routine, seems a bit unrealistic. And if there’s anything I’ve learned during this cancer experience, it would be to minimize/manage my expectations in a way – any way, to avoid any totally understandable but fairly unhelpful jumps to discouraging conclusions. Patience can be a virtue, although being one of many, less so. And though I consider myself an important patient (I would imagine most “terminal” patients would characterize themselves as such) and thus deserving/expecting exceedingly prompt and predictable feedback, the reality appears to be somewhat less Kenny-centric. Not that I need constant care (I don’t, thank God!) or reassurance for that matter; however, when your oncologist shortens up your life expectancy by say, 30 years, you kind of think/feel that you’ve risen to the top of his to-do list. Which I certainly don’t know that he has/keeps. If he did/does, perhaps my placement on it would warrant a more immediate reply, electronic or otherwise. Nevertheless, my diagnosis-to-date sense has been that though I am likely on a list, there are probably other equally less fortunate people who have become listed as well. All of whom feel as I do: that they’re the most important name on that list – real or imagined.

Apparently, for the medical system’s exchange of information and for the treatment of patients to sync, e-mail has to suffice. And though it may have taken me a little while to sync up, I am now a regular e-mailer to my doctor and an equally regular receiver of his electronic expertise. It’s not perfect, but four years into it, I feel fortunate to have the access that I do. It’s not exactly any port in a storm, but the weather has been inclement and having lines of communication available to me 24/7 has smoothed out many rough patches.