Is your primary care physician your ‘go-to’?
How well do you know your primary care physician?
For Meg Strock of Centerville, having a good relationship with her doctor proved to be lifesaving. Twice.
“I don’t want to sound corny or sappy, but he’s my advocate and he’s my friend,” she said. “If there’s something really big medically in my life, he’s my go-to.”
Strock was talking about Eric Weber, MD, of Park Street Primary Care in Hyannis.
Doctor and patient recently shared a lunch-break pizza at Medical Affiliates of Cape Cod in Hyannis, and talked about two such “big” medical moments in Strock’s life.
This was not your normal doctor-patient consultation.
“If you’re a primary care doctor, you have a knowledge of who your patient is,” Dr. Weber said. “If you know somebody and they’ve had an odd thing in the past and they know what is not right, it makes the job a little easier.”
Strock was born on Cape Cod, and about 14 years ago she was working as a waitress at a local restaurant. Her right arm felt weak and she noticed that the soles of her sneakers had different wear patterns.
“The people at work treated me like a hypochondriac,” she recalled. “It was very discouraging. My doctor sent me to a psychiatrist. It put me in the mindset that it was something I just had to deal with. I felt really defeated.”
Her condition continued to decline. “I was dragging my feet, slurring my words, falling a lot,” she said.
That’s when she found Dr. Weber and made an appointment to see him.
“She had a bunch of symptoms that didn’t make sense,” said Dr. Weber. “She needed to be imaged.”
Getting the Ball Rolling
An MRI revealed that Strock had a Chiari malformation, in which the lower part of the cerebellum extends into the base of the skull.
“Dr. Weber got the ball rolling,” said Strock. “It was nice because I wasn’t treated like, ‘OK, Meg, we’re going to up your dose of Prozac.’ He said, ‘There’s a problem and you have to take care of this.’”
In the spring of 2003, Strouk underwent neurosurgery, including a C1 laminectomy (the surgical removal of the bony arch of the top vertebra), which increases the size of the spinal canal and relieves pressure on the spinal cord.
“It sounds easy, what Dr. Weber did, but it was completely validating to me because I was second-guessing everything,” said Strock. “I kept asking myself, ‘Is there something wrong with me that I’m trying to find these crazy medical things?’ It really shook my self-confidence.”
Strock had started taking nursing classes to better understand body processes and medical terminology. After her successful surgery, she completed her studies and became a certified nursing assistant, or CNA.
Then Came the Back Pain
Last year she was working as a private-duty CNA, caring for elderly people at their homes and assisting them with daily activities, when she started struggling with back pain.
“It was getting more and more difficult to perform my duties,” she said.
Strock attended her daughter’s wedding and at the end of the day, when she took off her high heels, she could barely walk. It was time to see Dr. Weber again.
“She came in saying she had numbness in her perineal area, which is not normal. She had what’s called saddle numbness. You’re taught in medical school that that’s cauda equina syndrome. It was another neurological emergency.”
Dr. Weber scheduled an MRI and called Strouk with the results.
“He said, ‘We’ve got a problem and it has to be fixed like yesterday,’” said Strock. On Dr. Weber’s recommendation, she met with neurosurgeon Achilles Papavasiliou, MD, at Cape Cod Hospital.
“He looked at me and said, ‘You don’t have any options. You’re the real deal. I have to get in there tomorrow morning.’”
Dr. Papavasiliou operated in September, removing a large synovial cyst that was pressing on Strock’s spine.
Treatment With Dignity and Respect
“I’m doing pretty well now,” said Strock. “I have some discomfort but it’s being managed with steroids. That keeps the swelling and inflammation down so I can go about my daily life.”
Without timely surgery, Strock could have become a paraplegic, and she is grateful every day for Dr. Weber’s insight and compassion.
“He always treats me with dignity and respect,” she said. “When you have a relationship with someone, whether it’s your spouse or your sister or a friend, there has to be a level of trust.
“Dr. Weber provides me with that and I needed that. I knew something was terribly wrong and it was very scary to tell him and be afraid that someone was going to dismiss it. I trust him.”
Over lunch, Dr. Weber seemed a little embarrassed by all the praise.
“In Meg’s case, from the beginning, it didn’t sound right. It’s having enough of a suspicion to know when someone is sick or not sick and that they need another test.”
“I didn’t know you appreciated what I did so much,” he told Strock. “Thank you.”
Clearly, the gratitude runs in both directions.