I HAD heard stories of doctors disappearing — gone, suddenly, their offices closed and no forwarding address to be found — but I never expected it from my physician of 12 years. After weeks of phoning his office, I finally reached him. He referred to himself in the third person: Dr. J. was unavailable, the practice was closing and if I wanted my medical records, I should come fetch them.
This was a man who had peered into my nose and mouth, performed prostate examinations and talked me through afflictions. He knew I was married, had children, and what I did for a living. That he would skip town without notice seemed an abrupt ending. He didn't even tell my health insurance provider that he had shut his doors.
When I arrived the next day, the doctor handed me my records and said he was closing the practice and moving it to Texas. He had not notified anyone because there were too many patients to contact, an explanation I accepted without contention, the way I had adopted so much of his advice over the years.
Everyone seems to have a health care provider they swear by — a dentist who can pull teeth without painkillers, a chiropractor who can realign spines one-handed. "My doctor is the best," I've heard countless friends say. Rarely do they say "my doctor is the worst" — partly because people don't usually stay with bad doctors very long, but also because bad doctors aren't always obvious, at least until they do something obviously bad. Like, say, suddenly closing their practice and relocating 2,000 miles away.