The Case for a Second OpinionBy Carol Alt / Post / July 25, 2016
I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase said somewhere, whether it be TV, with friends, wherever: “I’d like a second opinion please.” Maybe it’s become such a common phrase that we as a whole have started to underestimate its gravitas. I mean, when you’re told that you’ve got cancer or another life-altering illness like it, you tend to not think as logically as possible. A second opinion may be the last thing on your mind at that point. Let me tell you, it’s worth the world to be sure one way or the other. I’m here this morning to make a case for the ubiquitous second opinion.
Years ago, when I had first moved from LA to New York, I was looking for another doctor. Nothing was wrong, I just needed a new GP to keep an eye on me when I was in my new home. I was recommended a new “Dr. R” by my LA practitioner, and having had nothing but good experiences with my tried-and-true doc, I was all for it. That lasted up until my first appointment with “Dr. R.” A few days after what I thought was routine, I got a call. She immediately starts off with a frantic tone, something that generally doesn’t inspire confidence.
“Carol,” she says “you’ve got cancer everywhere in your pelvis. It’s broken through the uterine wall and it has spread.”
Do you know those moments in your life that everything seems to slow down, sounds fade away to fuzzy static, and you finally truly realize just how insignificant it all is, how small and fragile we are? Yeah. It’s, I truly, truly hope you never have to know how that feels. I panicked.
I called my sisters, my mother, and even my boyfriend. My boyfriend told me to take my results immediately and go to my LA doctor, and another friend recommended a GP at Columbia Women’s Hospital. I called my doctor and asked for copies of my tests. I got no response. I was ignored again after reminding them a second time. I had had enough by then, so I sent my publicist- a staunch bulldog of a woman- to get my results. I wanted the docs at Columbia to see the exact same film and establish that my cancer findings were actually correct. I wanted a second opinion, and I wanted that backed up.
The doctor then had the gall to tell my publicist that I’d “wasted her time.” She said if I didn’t go to surgery immediately that I would die. She had already scheduled and appointment and booked an operating room. She wanted to know why I was jerking her around.
Seriously? If everyone tells you to get a second opinion and when you do, you’re verbally abused, you can see why I hesitate. I sent my publicist in because I didn’t want this doctor angry with me. What if I really had gone under the knife? I don’t want someone mad at me digging around inside. It was difficult, let me tell you. Nobody wants to piss off their doctor, me included. When everyone in my family urges me toward a second opinion, you can be sure that’s what I’m gonna do.
Well I remember waiting for the doctor at Columbia to go have a look at my x-rays. It was a Friday morning, and I was at a taping of a celebrity “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” where we donated any winnings straight to charities. I was backstage with the girls waiting, and I was so wracked by nerves I couldn’t concentrate. Literally pacing, I even went to Kim Alexis, a fellow model, and asked her to help me pray. Suddenly my phone rang, and a cold sweat started. I picked up and the doctor said “Listen, I took your x-rays down in front of an entire board of oncologists and not one of them saw this breaking through your uterine wall. We don’t know what this other doctor’s talking about.
Let me tell you, it’s possible to cry with relief. I messed up an hour’s worth of makeup right before going on air, but I didn’t care. I went to Kimmie and hugged and thanked her.
“Millionaire” went alright, I suppose. Trivia after heavy emotional stress isn’t my strong suit, and I ended up only raising about $65,000. My boyfriend told me I should still probably go see my LA doctors, so that’s what I did, even though a flight had just gone down in Jamaica Bay earlier that day. Stressful to say the least. I hopped on a flight and got a complete panel of tests done, all of which thankfully came back negative.
I told my LA doctor the whole story. How the previous had said “You’re too young to be the head of anything and you just don’t see the history of cancer I do.” My LA doc countered with “Carol, I knew that she was competing with me, but I didn’t think she’d endanger a patient’s life just to steal that patient from me…”
Really now? I was beside myself. I’d just spent the past two weeks sleepless, shaking, and sweating. I feared for my life because a New York doctor felt that they were in competition with Los Angeles? As it turns out, the doctor that had put the fear of death in me has since lost some of her surgical privileges at her hospital. She’d overbook the OR and too few of her patients would actually show up, which isn’t surprising to me now that I’ve gone through this ordeal. What a world.
Strangely enough, I ended up having two of my girlfriends butchered by that same doctor. One now has scars from her sternum to her pelvis, and hip to hip. The other ended up so emotionally unsound that her entire marriage started to dissolve. This doctor preached a non-invasive hysterectomy technique, and yet prefered to slice women down the middle. She also failed to advise them of the need to find an endocrinologist to deal with hormone imbalances after the surgeries.
You know, I’ve always liked being an outsider on the fringes of the conservative medical world. That’s what my show, “A Healthy You” on Fox, was all about. I know that certainly somehow someone must have pulled the plug and gotten me cancelled because I was bringing up the “alternative, crazy” things deemed useless like coffee enemas. But if there were ever a case for making sure you get a second opinion, this has to be it. We so often forget that medical professionals are human. They’re prone to jealousies, mistakes, and emotion in their personal and professional lives, just like the rest of us. They have to pay mortgages, so hey, what’s one more operation? Seriously. I’ve been at dinner with doctors who think that way. It’s hard to imagine being privy to that kind of conversation, but there I was.
All I can say is that I’m not talking about all doctors, but I AM talking about every diagnosis. Make sure you get a second opinion. Your life may actually depend on it. Mine did.
Edited by Jake Layton