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!

  4. Dear Jane,
    It’s really amazing how most physicians dismiss their patients! I know, even as a Internal Medicine physician, when “I had to get” a primary care MD, I was totally shocked not only at the way he “examined” me, but his totally uncaring attitude. I started getting angry. I am not timid woman and I say exactly what I mean. This time, I held the anger under control and stormed out the clinic never to return. I never did get a “primary care” doctor. As a matter of fact I asked a friend of mine, a cardiologist, a much friendlier person, if he minded being my doctor. He said yes and that was it. So, now for my story. I am a physician but not an ordinary one. A long time ago, I decided that the only way to change an organization is to infiltrate it. I did! I always wanted to help others, gained many degrees, etc etc., but was a bit shy about doing what I needed to do. It was an ER female doctor who I confided in, believed in me, and so I finally started applying to Medical schools. There was quota for female medical students but I made it and I was never prouder! It was a difficult road, scratching my way to the top but I did it! That road did cost me a marriage, my house, my community but my young daughter and I made it together. I aged greatly in those 8 years of training. I remember reading to my daughter before she went to sleep and then starting a long stretch of studying and transcribing notes to make a few dollars. This was before computer.
    Sometime before that adventure I swore never to lose my 60’s ethics and doing good for
    the people. I did, I truly did. I stayed true to what I thought medicine should be. Listening to people, finding out everything about them and then embarking on a common journey to find solutions to health issues. I just got a Board Certificate in Integrative Medicine, although basically I have been practicing it for several decades. People ask me ” why take a test?” I’m sure implying “at your age”. So, I answer “why not?”.
    Anyway, I think what I have done, since the insurance companies are not paying physicians and providing poor coverage to the insured, is provide very good medicine for a meager wage. I really mean very low, so low sometimes I took out loans just to provide medical care to the uninsured and people who couldn’t afford anything, even though “insured”.
    I care and always cared about my patients to this day, never dismissing anyone, ignoring them or minimizing them. So, to get to the point, not all physicians are puppets of the insurance companies, greedy and heartless people.

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