What Happens When Your Doctor Dies Unexpectedly?

What Happens When Your Doctor Dies Unexpectedly?

By Joanna Mechlinski.

My rheumatologist was killed in an accident in April. It’s terrible enough, hearing about a fiery car crash in the news when it’s a stranger. Now imagine realizing it’s the doctor you had been seeing regularly for the past 14 years, the one who’s been with you every step of the journey since you were initially diagnosed. No one ever dreams that when she walks out of the doctor’s office, it’ll be the last time she’ll see that doctor alive.

Joanna Mechlinski

After the initial shock had passed, I realized I needed to find another rheumatologist as soon as possible. Not only would his former office staff be overwhelmed with copying and forwarding the files of hundreds of patients, but it can often take months before doctors will see new patients. (In my case, it took THREE.)

In the meantime, I needed refills of all my prescription medications – including Tramadol. As everyone with chronic pain in today’s world knows all too well, it can be an uphill battle getting opioids under regular circumstances. In my case, I had to return to a primary doctor I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade, simply because my medical problems had long ago surpassed her purview. Although she knows me and my family, I was in essence a new patient at that point.

Although it may sound like speaking ill of the dead to some, the truth is that I was unhappy with my rheumatologist for quite some time. While he did have a number of pluses, such as being available to me via cell phone at literally any time (I once called him while he was on a ski lift – and he answered) he also had his fair share of minuses. Often he would tell me something specific during a visit; then during the next visit, he would tell me the exact opposite or else forget the whole subject entirely. He also had a blunt way of speaking, so that even though I knew he likely hadn’t meant anything by it, he could be hurtful.

Yet I was hesitant to switch doctors. Yes, I had sought second opinions over the years, but I never cut off my first rheumatologist entirely. For one thing, in my experience, there is no such thing as a dedicated doctor determined to find the cure for your disease except on television dramas. To date I’ve seen over a dozen specialists, some nationally renowned, and all treated me merely as a job. And for another, there’s something to be said for a 14-year history, regardless of whom it’s with.

My doctor’s death, as horrible as it was, forced me into action I would not likely have taken otherwise. Although it’s only been a few visits so far, I already have a good feeling about my new rheumatologist. He’s been looking at my symptoms and history in a totally different way, offering new diagnoses and medication combinations. He’s even examined an infusion that caused an allergic reaction in me and was immediately stopped, simply stating that a Benadryl thirty minutes prior to the procedure would have avoided any reaction. And all I can think is, why didn’t my previous rheumatologist see this? For the first time in years, I have some hope.

Odds are, your doctor isn’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon. I am fully aware that my situation is a rarity. However, there’s a lesson to be learned – for all of us. Make sure that you have a copy of your medical records. In the event of an emergency, you’ll be prepared. And if there’s anything those of us who live with a chronic illness know, it’s to expect the unexpected at all times.

Joanna Mechlinski is a former newspaper reporter who now works in education. She is a chronic pain sufferer who lives in Connecticut and is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.

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Authored by: Joanna Mechlinski

Joanna Mechlinski is a former newspaper reporter who now works in education. She is a chronic pain sufferer who lives in Connecticut and is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report. You can follow her on twitter @castlesburning.

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Mark Ibsen MD

I picked up two pain patients who were abandoned when their neurologist died
They were on high doses
They were suicidal
No one would pick up these cases.
Now I have to stop them.
The standard of care in my state of Montana has been set by a jury of 12 in Ravalli county.
There is no way to fight that.

Dena Meeks

Three years ago my Pain Management doctor died suddenly on a Saturday afternoon, he had no partners, so 40 patients showed up for their monthly appointments that Monday, most of them to pick up prescriptions for pain medications, only to find a sign on the door. Our experience got worse when word spread that he had taken his own life, suddenly, around 2,000 patients in critical need were desperate to find care, pump patients with pumps that needed to be refilled, but the mention of his name was suddenly a negative stigma, nobody wanted to treat us. About 100 of us came together on Facebook and have tried to help each other, but the stories are often sad, I would be dead without my family doctor because NO Pain doctors would touch me due to my medications and duration of treatment being almost 20 years now. I personally know of 2 suicides by patients who could not get the care they required, it’s just heartbreaking and many of us continue to struggle 3 years later. I’m glad your story has a happy ending, almost a blessing in disguise that you were forced to seek care with someone new. I pray each day for all of us who depend on opiates for some sort of quality of life and still pray for Dr. D’s family, still miss him.

My beloved neurosurgeon died suddenly from esophageal cancer at age 50, leaving behind his wife and five young children. His death reminds me to not complain. I’m still here. Never forget today is a gift.