By Karen Oslund

My son Joseph is 27 now, but he was just two or three when he toppled out of the shopping cart in the Willits Safeway. I’ll never forget the sound. I abandoned my cart full of groceries right there in front of the tortillas, scooped him up and dashed to the car. When we burst through the door at Baechtel Creek Medical Clinic, which is just a mad dash from Safeway, we were both crying hard. We did not have to wait long to see the doctor. After a careful going over, Dr. Matheson pronounced, “He’s going to be fine.” I have never been so relieved in my life.

Thank goodness for primary care. Thank goodness for a place to go, and someone to see, when we are in need. At that time, we were a single-income family living on a teacher’s salary, just trying to make it from one paycheck to the next. A trip to the ER would have been a setback. I was fortunate this incident happened on a weekday, but of course, even luckier that my son was fine.

Primary means first. When a medical problem arises, our primary care providers, be they physicians, nurse practitioners or physician assistants, should be the first place we go for evaluation and direction. As an established patient of a medical practice or clinic, when something goes wrong and you need to be seen, you can usually get in without enduring the intake paperwork and repeated insurance proffering. If you, or members of your family, are not established patients at a primary care practice, take care of this soon. Go in and be seen when there is nothing wrong. Get caught up on vaccinations, screenings, and have a frank discussion about how you could be healthier. This will establish a baseline for your doctor to understand how you look and act in your normal state.

At the Cancer Resource Centers, we see too many people with cancer whose diagnosis was delayed. Many factors can lead to a delay in diagnosing cancer, some very complex, but not having a doctor to go to is a reason some of our clients supply for not seeking attention for their symptoms sooner. People who are not already established patients of a clinic will usually have a longer wait to be seen. There is usually some homework involved in finding a doctor: Does this office take my insurance? Are they accepting new patients? How long is the wait for a first appointment? How can I find a provider that I can relate to and trust? A good place to start is to ask friends and family for recommendations.

We do not have enough primary care physicians in Mendocino County, but there are good people working to address this problem. The Family Medicine Residency Program will bring six medical residents to Ukiah for training. I hope they all stay.

Don’t wait until you have a medical problem to find a doctor. Having a place to go when you need medical attention is an important part of caring for yourself and your children. And it’s always nice to hear the words, “You’re going to be fine.”

The Cancer Resource Centers’ 2019 Cancer Awareness and Prevention series is sponsored by CRC in collaboration with the Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency. This information is presented for educational purposes and is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your health care provider.  The Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County is a grassroots organization serving our communities since 1995 by providing information, advocacy, and support services free of charge.