At the Corner of Wellness & Whaaatt!?

I remember when the new ad campaign for Walgreens came out, and though I wouldn’t call myself an existing customer or even a fan of Walgreens, I actually thought the campaign was brilliant.  The below launched as the first in a series of great commercials, putting a positive voice to the notion that the pharmacy literally is on almost every corner by pairing “emotional corners” to street corners.  Here is the first commercial that launched the campaign.

The upbeat music actually makes me want to skip all the way there.  My years of waiting in lines there dissolve into warm fuzzies about the family-owned store of yesteryear even though my husband and I have a long-running joke that Walgreens is “The Bachelor’s Grocery Store,” because it’s where my beloved goes to get razors, deodorant and copious amounts of cookies and soda when I am out of town.  He always returns with something completely outside our norm like Hawaiian sweet rolls or some ridiculous action figure that was on sale.  The above aside, I had my own very personal experience in a Tyler, Texas Walgreens – at the corner of South Broadway and The Racquet & Jog.

Switching gears for just a moment- my Nana is awesome, awesome as in she has an iPhone AND texts me with it, and she’s 79; awesome as in she is THE social butterfly of her retirement community; awesome as in I had to give her a gossip-rag, stage-name because her reputation as a talented member of the traveling bell choir precedes her.  “RoJo” is what I call her now, and she is the shiz.  As I did just this past weekend, I often call RoJo on a Saturday morning and ask if her social calendar allows for us to spend some time together or (since she no longer drives) if I can take her to run some errands, or for a pedicure or fro-yo.

What’s better than a day with your grandmother?  Not much if you ask me.  So, something that apparently is not genetic or at least skipped my generation in our family: A love of Walgreens.  I don’t love Walgreeens, but I do love to help my Nana/RoJo and watch as she enjoys and delights in the silly sales items on the end caps.  She wants me to take her to Walgreens for our outing.  After entering the store, RoJo with her walker, and I with an observant eye towards items she might like, I notice a gentleman in a ball cap and sweatshirt entering the store not far from where we are eyeballing the newest make-up.  Instinctively I blurt, “Excuse me sir, you look familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?”  We both stare inquisitively as I’m sure we are racking our brains, attempting to find the connection.

He offers, “I’m a doctor.”

“Oh, what kind?” I say.

“A urologist.”

“Wow,” I say”

He first utters a few mumbled words, but all I hear is Dr. Frederick.”

Now at the corner of “Not Sure What to Say” and “OMG!” I utter, “Oh, you aren’t who I was thinking you might be.  Sorry.”

He nods and walks away.  My Nana is asking me if I know where the large Emory boards are and confessing she’s not ready to move into my shade of fingernail polish: turquoise.  I am helping her look and thinking.  My brain is all jumbled as I consider the odds of running into this man, 1) at all; 2) in a Walgreens, where you would never find me, 3) in Tyler, where I do not live (I live in a small town outside the city.)

RoJo and I are walking down the aisles.  I’m getting several calls and messages and I am paying them no mind, because my attention is fixed on the chance meeting with this gentleman.  My mind racing, I remember, “Wait!  I don’t believe in chance.  I don’t believe in coincidence, and I don’t believe in luck.”  What I do believe in is Divine Intervention or what one might call: Opportunities.  I do not ignore either.  So I tell my Nana whom I think the man is.  “Nana- that man is the surgeon who implanted my friend with the mesh seven years ago.  I want to go ask him some questions.  Be right back,” and with that I begin looking for him, finding him at the corner of “The Laxatives Aisle and Refrigerated Foods.”

“Excuse me, sir,” I say.  “Excuse me!”  I have to raise my voice a little to catch his attention.  He sees me and recognizes me from minutes earlier- his expression, a little perturbed, but still open.  “I just figured out how I know you.  I’ve seen your picture before; I have some questions.  Do you have a few minutes?”

Guarded and unsure but still willing he says, “Sure.”  I’m thinking the guarded and unsure stance is more likely because he’s in a hurry and not because he doesn’t want to talk to me, for I know no one (except RoJo and a few other family members of mine) who is not in a hurry when at Walgreens.

“You said you work with Dr. Frederick?” for that’s what I had understood that he said when I initially stopped him.” (http://www.tmfhc.org/urology)

“Yes.”

“Do you still implant transvaginal mesh at your offices?”

“Yes.”

“But why?” I say, “It hurts women.”

“It’s not the mesh, he replies.”

“But how do you know that?  I have a lot of evidence to the contrary.  My mother has been bedridden for more than four years, and one of my best friends, a patient of your practice, has been terribly ill for seven years after receiving the implant.”

“It’s not the mesh,” he repeats with a roll of the eyes and a sort-of slouch that says to me, “Pffftt.”

This man’s practice is with a well-known hospital in Tyler, Texas, Trinity Mother Francis.  Dr. Frederick previously held seminars in local hospitals, touting the use of the mesh as the gold standard for repair of SUI and/or POP.  Many women signed up for a surgical consult with him, as a result of these seminars, where refreshments were offered by an unknown source at these “educational seminars” he gave.  Many signed up, my friend included.  Many did not know the dangers of the mesh procedure or its primary component/material (petroleum-based polypropylene plastic.)  In the interest of full disclosure, I never attended any of Dr. Frederick’s seminars, so I did not hear with my own ears what was said at them.  I am relying on the testimony of former patients for this information.

Our conversation continues as my curiosity kicks in about the certainty and darn-near immediacy with which he’s answered my question, “How can you say it’s not the mesh when there are so many reports of adverse events, and in July 2011, the FDA itself issued a warning saying these adverse events are no longer considered to be rare?”  In fact, many doctors have said that the percentages of risks for serious side effects are way beyond what the community of physicians at-large would consider medically acceptable and thus, safe.

Link to fda.gov announcement: “July 13, 2011 – FDA: Surgical placement of mesh to repair pelvic organ prolapse poses risks – Agency says other options may expose women to less risk than transvaginal procedure”

He cuts me off, “You’re uneducated.”

(For the reader: This is the last time I will be referring to this man as a gentleman.)

“YOU are speaking to A Specialist,” he says.  Just like that: “You (with an emphasis on ‘you’) are speaking to ‘A Specialist,’ as if I should no longer share equal space with him.  And I’m thinking, there are no “specialists” when it comes to mesh.  We are ALL still learning, since the product was never tested on humans.

Stunned, I say, “As. Are. You.”

I feel the activist-me replacing the ambling-shopper-me.  “I am a very active contributor and journalist for the only media outlet consistently covering and following the issues surrounding the uses of mesh.   I am not AT ALL uneducated about this subject.  I would offer up that you not call someone uneducated if you don’t know them or the status of their education.”

I am now at the corner of “What an arrogant #*@! and Genuine Confusion.”

He has no idea who I am.  I could be a scientist, an expert witness, a plaintiff or even another doctor.  I could be a very curious former Cosmonaut, for all he knows.  Most importantly, I could be one of his patients- a client or one of his associates’ clients.  I could be lawyer representing plaintiffs or defendants in the mesh cases.  I could work for a manufacturer.  I could be “The Mesh Warrior.”  With no idea who I am, he makes the assumption that I am uneducated and confidently verbalizes that in the first 30 seconds of our conversation.  I hope he is able to find and read this article so he can know more about who I am, since he didn’t stick around to find out much or ask, as would be reasonable and customary in a chance meeting.  I wonder if he might still say the same thing.  He might.

Here’s who I AM.  

I AM the daughter of a severely-injured woman (who is not a patient of his).

I AM the friend of many very, very sick mesh-implanted friends (some of whom were patients of his).

I AM a journalist who specializes in the mesh controversy.

I AM a curious human being, desperate to find answers and help the mesh-injured, whose names are on my brain when I go to sleep and when I wake up.

I AM a woman who has just hours before, taken a break from reading depositions in the first Ethicon Bellwether case, to take my grandmother shopping at Walgreens.

I AM a person who has read many, many scientific papers, medical journals and white papers regarding the problems with mesh – from the microbiological level to the procedural level and everything in between.

I AM a woman who has accompanied patients to the exam rooms of the man whom many believe is the leading expert regarding mesh, and especially its removal.

I AM a woman who’s been in exam rooms for consults, trans-labial ultrasounds, urodynamic testing, hematology appointments, and I’ve paid that darned $12 to park in the UCLA parking garage more times than I can count.

I AM a woman who has interviewed the leading mesh expert and physician in person and in writing over email.

I AM a vocal patient advocate.

I AM not intimidated or afraid to ask well-informed questions of a currently practicing “Specialist.”

In short:  I AM the WRONG person to call uneducated about the mesh and its controversy.

Picking up our conversation from “As. Are. You. [also speaking to a specialist]” I continue, “So you don’t think that the widely-accepted fact and medical evidence that proves the mesh shrinks up to 50% or more is an issue that would make you question your belief that ‘It’s not the Mesh?’”

The Specialist speaks, “I can’t believe you are having this conversation in a Walgreens on a Saturday!” His voice raised; he is visibly irritated.  His body a human punctuation mark of all that he must be thinking, and certainly of what he says aloud.

The Uneducated speaks, “I don’t find it odd to have conversations with my neighbors at the grocery store on a Saturday.  Why do you?”

Things are starting to get a little toasty here, even next to the refrigerated and frozen foods section.  His whole demeanor has changed.  To me, he looks incensed, a “How dare you?” look is his overall countenance.

I begin to explain my experiences with my mother, experiences with other women in Dr. Raz’s office, patients whom I’ve accompanied there and what Dr. Raz, widely accepted by patients and the medical community alike as the leading expert in all things mesh, has said to me personally.  “The Specialist” argues with me; listing his pedigree, the conferences he’s attended, the debates he’s personally witnessed or contributed to with Dr. Raz and then “The Specialist” says, “Dr. Raz still uses mesh; do you know that?”

“Yes,” I say.  “He uses it for one specific procedure, but he does not implant it transvaginally.  I have personally asked him this question over email and face-to-face while at UCLA.”

“Dr. Raz has done more implants of the mesh than I have, probably more than our whole practice,” he says, now very obviously on the defensive.  He says he knows otherwise of Dr. Raz and that I don’t know what I’m talking about as he waves me off with his hand, rolls his eyes, and walks off; leaving me at the corner of “Utter Disbelief and Shock.”  I stand there staring at a bin full of insignificant objects, mostly made of plastic, for several minutes.

I’m thinking, “In what other context would a service provider treat even a potential client that way?”

Patients are CLIENTS.  We are the reason doctors have a job.  But doctors are special in that they take an oath, the famous Hippocratic Oath.

Would your insurance agent treat you that way if you saw him or her in the grocery store and asked for a few minutes of his time?

Would your local restaurant owner speak to you that way?  Your banker?  Your hair stylist?  Your dentist?  Your local grocery-store owner?  Your everyday, Ph.D. who has spent an equal amount of time in educating himself/herself about his/her chosen specialty?  Would you, yourself, speak to your clients that way in a grocery store on a Saturday, Nana-RoJo in tow?

A reasonable answer to me could have been, “This is a complex subject.  Here’s my card.  Why don’t you give me a call, set-up an appointment with me, and I’d be glad to speak more with you about your questions.”  Or how about, “There is much we are learning about mesh.  I’m in a bit of a hurry.  Why don’t you call our offices Monday, and we’ll set something up?”

That would have been at the corner of “Polite and Professional.”  Streets, which, based on my personal experience with him, he must not travel too often.

If you have questions, both Dr. Frederick’s information and Dr. Raz’s information is public and links are listed below:

Dr. Raz/UCLA     

Dr. Frederick/Trinity Mother Francis

– Tyler, TX

Dr. Frederick/Trinity Mother Francis of Tyler, Texas

Dr. Frederick/Trinity Mother Francis of Tyler, Texas

Dr. Shlomo Raz/UCLA

Dr. Shlomo Raz/UCLA

15 responses

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  7. Good for you, Aaron!   I do know of a patient of his who likes him, but I don’t know that she had a mesh implant.  I will ask her. When are we going to have that lunch?  I am busy this week, but maybe we can get together soon. Love, Suzanne

    Liked by 1 person

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