J Huang Visits the Doctor. A Cautionary Tale

April 19, 2005

We all know health care is a mess in this country. (My dad had a little trip to the emergency room (turned out to be nothing) but guess what it cost: $14,000.)

Through a strange roll of fate's dice, I have 2 health insurance policies, and my sister, boyfriend, college roommate, best childhood friend, and various other friends are doctors. I grew up in the Bay Area. So you'd think getting an appointment with a doctor wouldn't be a problem, right? ha ha aha.

I decide to go with Pamela Ling --because she's a female, my friend said she was good, and because she's slightly famous --she was on MTV's Real World 10 years ago. I call the office, they say she's accepting new patients, I put her down for my HMO.

Over the next 4 months I called twice and was told her schedule wasn't available. The third time I called back I was told she wasn't accepting new patients, the only thing available was with a medical student (not an intern, not a resident, a student) and wasn't I lucky to get this appointment in less than a month?

In the meantime, I've contacted Dr. Ling as a Hyphen staffer and get an interview with her as one of the first AA women on reality TV. It seems tacky to mention that I need to see her as a doctor. My friends tell me to exploit the connection, just drop an email and casually mention I need an appointment. It feels vaguely unethical.

So I go to see this student --who was perfectly nice, seemed adequately informed, and was waaaaaay thorough. Insisted on testing me for TB, for hepatitis B, checking my cholesterol, blood sugar, etc, etc.

So here's the news: it is possible to lose one's immunity for hepatitis B. And I have, apparently.

If you don't know, hep B is endemic in most of Asia and therefore AAs are at high risk of contracting it --possibly carrying it for decades without knowing it. It's a simple test to check for it and 3 shots to get immune, usually for life. (See Hyphen, issue 1, for my article on it) But not in my case. Moral of the story: even if you've gotten the shots, if you engage in any kind of risky behavior (change sexual partners often, perform surgery, shoot drugs, travel to Asia a lot) you should get tested every so often.

Also endemic to Asia: TB. I don't have it, but I've been exposed and carry the virus. (Don't worry, i'm not contagious). But if my immune system is weakened I could get full blown, active TB, so I get to take 9 months of antibiotics daily to knock it out of my system. The freaky thing is trying to figure out where I was exposed --someone coughing next to me on the plane? The subway in Shanghai? Some roadside food vendor in Phonsavan? No way to know.

And lastly, the steroids. (And here's where we're into Too-Much-Information Land.)I've had a rash, off and on, for more than a year. Perhaps you've noticed me scratching myself incessantly at Hyphen meetings. Difficult to be discreet. It's been called eczema, contact dermatitis, dry skin, allergies, etc, etc.

According to my med student's attending physician (an AA man), it's very common for Asians to have really dry skin. He himself has very dry skin. I mentioned my mother suggested I skip showers in favor of --shall we say, delicately,-- spot cleaning (so that the body's natural oils can protect the skin). He agreed, and said when he showers he usually uses soap only on his private parts and under his arms, and the rest he just rinses.

Was that not TOO MUCH INFORMATION from my doctor?! This is exactly why I don't want a male doctor. I don't know about you, but i have a visual mind. That is NOT a picture I wanted in my head! (This is after I dropped my last doctor because he pointed out where his herpes outbreak is. I DON'T WANT TO KNOW!)

But I digress again. Apparently I need to stop using soap and water on body (apologies in advance, all) and rub steroids all over it.

So there you have it. If you don't want to end up like me, I recommend

1) Avoiding UCSF for medical treatment unless you like paying $2.50/hr for parking, waiting for months to see a student and getting snarky attitude from many of the people who work there.

2) getting the TB vaccination (they don't usually offer it in the States because it's rare here, but if you're going to Asia, it's not a bad idea).

2). getting the Hep B vaccination. Well, you still might end up like me but it's very, very rare.

3). Shower without soap, or skip showering altogether.