Thursday, April 30, 2009

"You're Fired!"

In a previous blog, I mentioned that I would share my know-how of hiring and firing doctors. Long before "the Donald" made "You're Fired!" the catch-phrase of the millenium, hiring and firing people was and is a part of doing business.

But despite all the sweet business deals to be had, there's no business more important than the hiring and firing of doctors. Your health -- and possibly your life -- depends on it.

Let's discuss the easiest part first: hiring doctors. You love a doctor and decide to use him or her. It's as simple as that. During your litmus tests of finding a gateway doctor or a specialist, you know this doctor is for you.

In more specialized circumstances -- like after you have met with a bunch of loser-doctors -- you can reveal during your interview that you are looking for that special doctor. For example, during the final planning of my mastectomy, I had the reconstruction surgeons lined up, but I needed a mastectomy surgeon.

The first thing I said to her was this: "I've got all my doctors in place -- except one. I need someone to do the mastectomy. I'm hoping you are the missing link." She laughed and said she hoped she was, too, and it turned out that she was a breast cancer survivor who had a single mastectomy and was sweet and kind and very empathetic.

I hired her on the spot.

(I didn't go into all the details about how the other two surgeons wanted to remove my ovaries and uterus and breasts. I also didn't tell her that, in my frustration with one of the organ grinders, I had the nerve to tell him that he might as well give me a sex-change operation, and alarmingly, the doctor just glared at me instead of laughing like his assistant.)

Now for the difficult part: how does one fire a doctor?

I wish I could tell you that I yelled at a doctor and pointed at him, saying "You're Fired!" as I stormed out of the office, but that would be false.

Truth is, it's always been really difficult and painful for me before, during, and after cancer to keep from crumbling under the authority of a doctor. In my previous blog, Say "No" to Thugs, I discuss how some doctors abuse their authority to bully their patients into compliance.

Here are the different ways I fired doctors (highlighted in red), and every case involved heartache and an embarrassing discovery that my mascara wasn't waterproof. You will notice that, except for a couple of times, "firing" meant simply walking away from these doctors.

**The surgeon who was so great to me during diagnosis and prognosis, but years later claimed it was unethical to do a preventive mastectomy: I flat-out told him he was wrong and that my gut instinct was right. He sneered at me, and I told him I was using another doctor.

**The gynecologist who lied to me when I was in my first trimester by telling me there was a 99.5% chance I'd carry this baby to term because he wanted to see me happy. I complained about him to his colleagues and never came back after my post-miscarriage D&C.

**The gynecologist who scolded me for my medical decision not to follow his advice. I left the office crying, but I never came back.

**The second-opinion oncologist who told me that if I didn't submit to his treatment, I'd be dead in a year -- causing me to leave yet another doctor's office crying. I called the first oncologist I saw, and he calmed me down and told me that I had no reason to believe that death was around the corner. I called the second-opinion guy and told him I would not take his advice and I was seeing another doctor.

These are just some of the doctors I fired, but they provide a very simple truth: we all have the capacity to advocate for ourselves and that firing doctors need not be dramatic -- and that sometimes the most courageous acts involve quietly walking away.

Beth L. Gainer is a professional writer and has published an essay on her breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. She teaches writing and literature at Robert Morris University in the Chicago area. She can be contacted at and



  1. Another excellent post. Great way to integrate your other blogs into this one. I stand by my person favorite: A Train Car Named Quagmire. You have to get a "Best Posts" section on the right and add that link. Let me know if you want me to help you do that.

    On another note, you're not dead: did you ever get back in touch with Doctor Death to let him know he was wrong?

  2. Excellent advice, Beth! People, myself included, always seem to crumble under a medical doctor's opinion. Often it's stated as if his/her diagnosis is "Gospel truth," and they say it with such authority. No wonder people just take it at face value, especially those of us that are timid.

    I've also seen my share of quack doctors and to never again return.

    The rub lies in the fact that the hunt goes on again to find another doctor, which can be extremely tiresome, especially if one has medical issues that need to be addressed. Let's face it; there are so many incompetents out there, and it's a shame to waste time and money just to find this out.

    Your blog gives some great, sound advice, and I thank you so much for your candor.

  3. Thanks, Jeannie, for your support and advice regarding Best Posts. I really need help with that one. Also, I'm not sure if I did the links correctly because when I click on them, I get a weird Internet-Explorer-can't-read-this message.

    Can you shed light on these? I appreciate your help. I just blame everything on chemobrain -- either that or the fact that my cats are chasing eachother.

    BTW, maybe the reason the Traincar Named Quagmire one is your favorite is because it's kind of a story. I even thought it could be submitted somewhere as a standalone essay.

  4. Thanks, JM, for your compliment on my work and your candor. I really understand how hard it is to find doctors who will work for you. It's frustrating, dehumanizing, and just downright unpleasant, and I had many setbacks and moments of real depression.

    But my advice is to persevere. All of what I write about was exceedingly painful. But one can't just give up, and I know you have a strong, resilient character.

  5. Oh, by the way, I never called Dr. Death again, mainly because I forgot his name, but you gave me an idea. Maybe I'll write a letter to him, kind of the way you do to those lazy students, on my blog.