Category Archives: Medical Industrial Complex Woes

Stories exposing weaknesses of our current health system

Vignette Two – Nothing Compares 2U

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As promised, Vignette Two – Compass Oncology – another heartbreaker revealing exactly where the patient fits into the medical industrial complex.

The great singer Sinead O’Connor launches into her 1990 heartbreaker Nothing Compares 2U counting down, “It’s been seven hours and fifteen days”. I always loved that opening. Since leaving Compass Oncology July 30th at 1:30 p.m. that fragment has frequented my mind. There was no romance involved with my heartbreak. It was a purely dispassionate reminder that the medical industrial complex only wants to prolong my life one way – their way. 

But you judge as I recount.

As soon as I choose the Bruckner Protocol, my team not only took on the task of getting me into this NYC clinic but also took on scrolling for prospective local providers to partner with the protocol. While we awaited OHSU’s determination, I asked around for oncologists who were either creative or in small private settings. We needed low red tape. Compass Oncology met neither of those criteria but several people pointed to the same doc as “prioritizing what the patient wanted” and no other names were offered up. So we gave him a try despite reservations – we hoped by being very, very clear we could avoid wasting resources.

Friends worked with the new patient administrator to clarify the sole purpose of the appointment, a local doctor to administer this protocol, and underlined that given my current travels and treatment I did not want to fit in an appointment with a lukewarm prospect or a dead end. I only was willing to meet with an interested doctor. (Am I repeating myself enough?) We checked in regularly to make sure that all the clarifying paperwork was in and reviewed in advance. The new patient administrator was great and reassuring until the final week. She confessed all she was doing to meet our reasonable demands but expressed doubts that the doctor was paying attention. The day prior, she called to say the doctor had pledged to call me that day with any questions. I stayed home and waited. No call came. The friend accompanying me wanted to know, “are we on?”, I gulped and said, “yes”. She arrived to pick me up at 10:15 the next morning.

The receptionist greeted us with over 20 pages of paperwork that I refused to fill out, saying, “I am here for a yes or no. If I become a new patient I will fill it out.” The new patient administrator was called in to back me up. I now had a clipboard of only three pages to fill out. I thought about the ever-expanding marcy westerling medical forest

clear cut for paperwork never to be read

clear cut for paperwork never to be read

being clear cut in my honor – a clear cut I could come to terms with if any health care provider had ever proven to read the reams of pages they demand. Sometimes I entertain myself by leaving pages blank – no one ever calls me back to fill in the blanks. Never.

My friend and I return to waiting. We watch a YouTube of African cocoa growers being introduced to chocolate, the product they make possible, for the first time. It helps five minutes pass. But then I am out front of the building pacing the in fresh air that gives me calm – even if the fresh air is in a large parking lot on a busy street. I create a pacing grid keeping me near the entrance. My pedometer will tell me I pace for over a mile while waiting. We are called in, put in a typical small, airless room to wait. I open the door, pace the hall both to observe and calm. I watch three women at a counter chatting. I decide to engage. “When do you think I might actually see my doctor? It’s been quite the wait.” They all rush to aid but of course have the non-answers of the system, “oh, he must be on his way.”

Eventually, a cheerful young woman arrives to review. She starts off poorly inquiring about a doctor I haven’t seen in years. This would be the pattern for the next hour. I was not nice. I said, “hmmm. I wonder if you have found the health summery that clearly shows who are my current doctors.” I then clarified, again, “I am here for one reason and one reason only and that is to hear if the doctor will do a specific protocol. It is a yes – no situation.” She left and then sent in the next woman who spent the first five minutes shuffling papers in her lap but at least in an effort to drill down to the topic at hand. Clearly no pre-work happened. She avoided eye contact. I was now a problem patient.

Her questions once started were mainly relevant; although she too was convinced doctors and systems of year’s prior were still treating me. Whatever. I moved her to 2014. I moved her to the protocol. There was a lot of silence as she studied the simple sheet of documentation. Her questions got smarter as she focused in. She might not have done homework but she was a quick study who wasn’t sure she liked what she saw. She said, tell me more about this clinical trail. I told her it was not a clinical trail. She insisted it was. I insisted it was not and three minutes were lost with the back and fourth that ended in truce not resolution. Then she decided it must not be legal. I assured it was, that all the drugs were FDA approved and covered by Medicare. She disagreed. I said it was off label use, routinely done. She assured me it was never done. Sigh. This was getting old. I switched tactics and asked her to look at how healthy I was, the robust lab results and the declining ca 125, perhaps, my body could provide testimonial. She conceded my point.

She left the room, we returned to waiting, me back exploring the boring hallways that make up every medical facility I visit.

The doctor arrived. He entered and immediately informed us he would never do the protocol. What perfect clarity for yesterday! He informed us I have recurrent ovarian cancer and it runs a certain course. Yes, I concurred, why did he think I was being so creative in my treatment options? He then proceeded in his own go round of why Medicare would never pay for this; my facts were entirely not relevant although I repeated Medicare was already paying for these treatments for me. I was ready to leave. My friend had given up a half day of work. The doctor closed with my favorite comment, “As a quality of life issue, you should not be flying back and fourth to NYC every other week for treatment.” OH MY GOD – this is exactly why we were in his office. Agreement and rejection in one farcical visit.

This doctor and this agency had every right to reject my request for a certain treatment. In fact, we anticipated it and thus requested they skim the few pages of data and give us their first instinct opinion. If it was a likely no, no need to proceed. We met every one of their requests for endless paperwork. They clearly understood their own staff’s repeated request that they review in advance. In the medical industrial system, those in power nod their heads agreeable, and proceed with the endless bureaucracy that ensures they can bill and the patient’s have a new hobby – sitting in waiting rooms.

By the way, the greeting for patients on the Compass Oncology website  states, “The experts at Compass Oncology are here for you every step of the way with answers, support, compassion and respect. We understand cancer treatment is a highly personal journey, uniquely different for each patient. It is a journey filled with many decisions and potential directions. For decades, the physicians and staff at Compass Oncology have been united by a singular focus: to help our patients find a clear path to hope and healing.”compass-footer-logo

Fighting for Treatment (again)

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When my cancer surged unexpectedly in early June, I re-oriented my psyche for a physical battle. I had never before had such a high volume of cancer nor felt it with every move and it had showed up with such speed, in just 45 days off of treatment. With surgery removed as an option and my track record of not being super responsive to chemo, I knew I needed an aggressive plan or to be content with starting a more active stage of dying. I chose the former – the Bruckner Protocol. I had bookmarked this protocol over a year prior should I be in this exact circumstance. Within a week of contacting the Bruckner Clinic, they had reviewed all of my paperwork, engaged in salient back and fourth conversation (often after-hours between me and the actual doctors) and scheduled me for an intake visit and 29 hours of chemo.  My first chemo cycle happened within this first week!!!!

The Bruckner Protocol is a minimally documented or published regimen with limited longitudinal data. (The doctors are focused on doing versus writing up – the data awaits compilation and presentation.) I  fly cross-country to receive the treatment in their clinic.  I made the choice based on being a highly informed, extremely motivated terminally ill patient. I wasn’t sure this protocol, or anything, could keep me stable, but I knew this protocol had a higher possibility of letting me return to stability and a shot then of staying stable with other treatments. It was my best hope.

My most trusted peers affirmed the decision. It was bookmarked in their “last ditch” file as well.

I have now had 3 rounds of my 29-hour, every other week NYC based infusions. My tumor marker is in steady decline. I fly back to NYC next week for round four.

A full 50% of my life now goes to travel to NYC, infusions and recovery. In the other week, you might wish for me as I wish for me, relaxing moments with friends and family but no, you would be so, so silly. My good week goes to full on battle with the medical industrial complex. I did not select this battle. I am merely seeking a local doctor who will follow my treatment request and give me the Bruckner Protocol, which uses only FDA approved drugs. Apparently, patient’s rights do not included allowing a dying, informed patient to present an obviously working, out of the mainstream choice.

Let me give you, dear reader, a few vignettes to illustrate the perverted life of a patient fighting to stay alive through the end of the year.

Vignette One – Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU)

OHSU Opulence

OHSU Opulence

I have made clear in prior posts my love of OHSU. While I wonder at times what it means that they are such an opulent campus (who is paying for this?), I enjoy the vibrant energy, art-filled, green-filled spaces that buffer tough treatments with distractions. They are a public, non profit who in their own mission statement claims, “Setting the example for integrity, compassion and leadership, OHSU strives to:

  • Educate tomorrow’s health professionals, scientists, engineers and managers in top-tier programs that prepare them for a lifetime of learning, leadership and contribution.
  • Explore new basic, clinical and applied research frontiers in health and biomedical sciences, environmental and biomedical engineering and information sciences, and translate these discoveries, wherever possible, into applications in the health and commercial sectors.
  • Deliver excellence in health care, emphasizing the creation and implementation of new knowledge and cutting-edge technologies.
  • Lead and advocate for programs that improve health for all Oregonians, and extend OHSU’s education, research and healthcare missions through community service, partnerships and outreach.

June 13th, I got my devastating scan results and a phone call from my OHSU doc assuring me, “we will fight this.” That afternoon I emailed her the first of many detailed emails explaining why I did not want to accept her treatment proposal but instead requested that she partner with me in utilizing the Bruckner Protocol to beat back this cancer volume. I sent her the links to the clinic as well as all available papers on the thinking and delivery of this protocol immediately. It was a complete introduction to the clinic. I thought OHSU’s mission might make this an easy match.

Given my arduous treatment schedule, I insisted that her office wade through the materials prior to me coming in for an office visit. After all, a visit should be based on their agreement to use this protocol because I have already made my decision. The office staff kept asking for more information and finding new red tape that needed to be worked through. They were attentive. We were responsive. Finally, it was time for the office visit. It was short and upbeat, with the doctor arriving, asking if Medicare would pay? I said, “yes.” She said, “Oh, well, then this is a no brainer.” She then explained why she had no reservations with the protocol even though it was atypical. She felt “the doses present a tolerable risk.” We spent the remainder of the office visit with her recruiting us to a fundraiser. We left light-hearted – we had done it! We were back at OHSU!

The next week I returned for a final visit to Bruckner Oncology. The evening of the first night of treatment, I got a message that the OHSU Pharmacy had met and rejected the protocol finding the documentation too limited (it is limited.) By the next morning I was wretchedly sick and the clinic had a heck of a time stabilizing me. Bad news, travel and poisons don’t mix very well, it seems.

The saddest part of the rejection came that Friday morning as my OHSU doctor, a wonderful, compassionate doc, left me a voice mail disclaiming any endorsement of the protocol, calling it “crazy” and asking me to return when I could document its efficacy. (Obviously, my rapidly declining ca 125 not counting.)

A research facility requiring documentation for a treatment is entirely reasonable. To ignore the material presented and waste 45 days of a patients time by skimming and not processing what is provided, that, dear reader, is wrong. Maybe what I am doing is crazy. But the deciders could have decided that June 13th when I provided them with what there was in terms of documentation. They failed in their job. I did not fail in mine.

Vignette Two – Compass Oncology coming soon – another heartbreaker revealing exactly where the patient fits into the medical industrial complex.