A baby boomer confronts a dismissive medical world


Just because we baby boomers are looking a little older on the outside, it doesn’t mean we’re not feeling younger on the inside! So New York City writer Jane Paznik-Bondarin has just rebelled!

It was inevitable, that first visit to a doctor half my age who talked to me as if I were a bit slow and slightly deaf. It was inevitable, but I didn’t have to like it. I did, however, accept it. Once.

Running injury, leg and ankle painBack story: I am a healthy woman who will be sixty-eight next month (narrowly making me a Baby Boomer, officially making me one of the very first). Just for the record, I am a retired university professor who now only works part-time managing a school website and taking photographs … but that makes no difference to the story. I take no prescription medication on a daily basis. I am trim and keep fit with yoga and walking two to five miles per day, depending on the season and location.

Or at least I used to. Last spring I was diagnosed by a podiatrist with one of those age-related illnesses you get and don’t get rid of: posterior tibialis tendon dysfunction, or (even the name puts you right in your place), Adult Onset Flat Foot. What did the bright light who gave this dysfunction its name think got it, teenagers?

doctor_penThat I fell into one particular orthopedist’s care was not entirely his fault. I had been recommended to one of the premier surgeons in New York City, but he and most of his colleagues at a hospital that surgically operates on the feet and ankles of sports stars and celebrities have “opted out of Medicare” (a rant for another day), and they leave only a single neophyte to see the old folks who rely on insurance.

After a long wait, x-rays in hand, the unsmiling doctor looked at my bare feet, asked me to stand on my toes, palpated my ankle, and confirmed the diagnosis. He recommended that I begin with orthotics and a course of physical therapy. How often do people who present as I do require surgery, I asked.

New York is a city of walkers.

New York is a city of walkers.

Fifty percent, he said, and then, his voice redolent of condescension, he hurried to add, “You know, surgery entails many risks, and you will not come back to me smiling for almost a year.” A promise, a threat, like my mother used to make when I wanted to play in the snow without rubber boots: “You’ll catch a cold and get sick.” Furthermore, he said in the same tone, “And this doesn’t seem to upend your lifestyle any.” It might have been encouraging but how could he possibly know that? He had asked no questions about my life. I wondered if he would have said the same thing to a man.

Writer Jane Paznik-Bondarin.

Writer Jane Paznik-Bondarin.

I wanted to say: “Oh, you don’t understand, I am an Olympic pole vaulter.” Of course I didn’t. What I really wanted to say was, “I can’t walk without pain, and because the pain sometimes surprises me, I can’t plan to travel. I can’t even plan to walk down the block.” Again though … I didn’t.

Because here’s what I really should have said: “Look at me, damn it. I might be twice your age, but I am not sitting in a rocking chair, stroking the cat, and looking out my picture window all day.” Alas, that’s the last thing I didn’t say.

So what did I tell this young pup? “I would be happy to avoid surgery if these non-curative interventions work.” Period. He nodded and handed me my paperwork. I was dismissed.

Well, so is he. I have returned neither to this doctor nor this hospital. Annoying as it is, I will start my search anew for the right doctor. An image sustains me: If he’s lucky, some day this callow man will be my age. I wish for him that the young doctor examining his flat foot looks in his eye and sees just how much life is left to live.


  1. I have come to realize that we are all on or own when it comes to health & fitness decisions. Even if he told you exactly how to solve your issue, it’s probably only 50/50 he gets it right. Check out this site. This isn’t exactly your diagnosis but this guy is very good at debunking BS treatments. http://saveyourself.ca/articles/spot-10-foot-arch.php. Shoot him an email. Perhaps he has an idea for you.

    1. Thanks, Mark. Will definitely follow up. The problem was less that he got it wrong–he may actually have gotten it right–but that he was so dismissive. I am neither a particularly aggressive person/patient nor a submissive one. I’d done everything I was supposed to do to prepare for the appointment: brought questions, even made diagrams of where the pain came/went. He just didn’t care. He read the x-rays, did his clinical diagnosis, and he was finished. I may as well have sent in the foot without the rest of me! Thanks again for the “referral.” j

  2. Jane , I read your very good article and I think the problem with this young doctors is that they have no idea how to do a real personal “anamnesis”, they nener leatned how to examine a patient phisically and how to ask the questions that will give them the answers that will bring them to the right diagnosis.
    They just know how to read the conclusions on the thousands of exams they ask for.
    No more general doctors , only specialists!!!

    And you find this not only among the medical world, but all around…

    1. Yes, Siomara, you are right. There’s a lot of “medicine” out there now but not a lot of “doctoring.” More’s the pity.

  3. Thank you for writing this. I am in the same place with sciatica, which doesn’t go away, and thought I was just going to have to live with it because after all, I am 63. I do believe at my next visit to the next doctor, I’ll compose a “hear me roar” speech and see if it helps.

    1. Liz, go for it! I was so intimidated during the office visit–and I not usually the “intimidated” sort–that I was nearly mute (definitely not that sort either). My one revenge: I sent the guy’s boss the URL for the article. I am sure he doesn’t care, but it made me feel better. You DEFINITELY don’t have to live with sciatica. I found “world’s best physical therapist” after chiropractors, orthopedists, and assorted PTs and finally got some relief. Good luck!

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