FAA Medical Mayhem

I had been putting off going to the doctor to talk to him about a chronic, recurring medical problem I have had off and on for years now.  I finally made an appointment on Friday, because I also had picked up an earache that didn’t seem to be getting better.  So I decided to get both problems addressed at the same time.

The doctor told me I had some fluid buildup in my ear, for which he prescribed an antibiotic.  For the other problem he gave me a prescription for a drug very similar to what I had taken years ago for the same problem.

When I tried to get the prescription for the latter filled, I found that my insurance no longer covered the drug, as it was available over-the-counter.  My insurance company apparently will pay for a newer, more expensive variant of the same drug, but not for a cheaper one available over-the-counter.  I wonder why our health care costs are skyrocketing…  But I digress.

Per FAA regulations I need to report any drugs that I am taking, so after I got home and had taken my first doses of each medicine I called the FAA Regional Flight Surgeon.  The other option is to speak with a manager at my facility where I work, but if I do that I waive all privacy protection, so my normal preference is to keep non-medical personnel out of my medical issues whenever possible.  Apparently I spoke with a receptionist, because she took the information and a short time later I got a call from a nurse.

She told me that the antibiotic was fine and that I could work while taking it, but the other drug name had been lost in translation because I had to give the name of it to her again.  When I did, she advised me that there was a 24 hour wait after taking the drug to work, and a 72 hour evaluation period if I wanted to continue taking it.

This was a complete surprise to me as I had taken almost exactly the same drug years before (which was still on record in my medical file with the FAA) without an evaluation period and without any problems.  But apparently now I might see pink elephants or something while taking the drug and would have to undergo an evaluation period of 72 hours.

We then had a long conversation about whose responsibility it was to notify my facility and supervisor as I was unclear about how the process worked.  The nurse seemed very defensive but I was really just trying to understand what my obligations were in this situation.  I had assumed that the Flight Surgeon would notify the facility that I was unable to work for however many hours, without getting into specifics about my condition (to preserve privacy).  But I was told it was my responsibility to contact my supervisor/manager and work out the evaluation period.

So apparently I call the Flight Surgeon, then I call my manager, then my manager calls the Flight Surgeon to verify that I had contacted the Flight Surgeon and to verify that there was indeed an evaluation period.  To me it would be more logical and efficient to have the Flight surgeon call my manager directly and skip the middleman (me), but there I go thinking again…

The most disturbing part of the conversation was when the nurse suggested that I shouldn’t take any more of the drug until I had worked out the evaluation period with my manager in advance!  Apparently the FAA believes they should be able to dictate where and when someone takes prescription medicine!  And who says the FAA doesn’t care about you and your health?!

As my doctor told me I needed the medicine I opted to continue taking it (instead of asking the FAA for permission) and I called my supervisor.  I told him that I needed to undergo a 72 hour evaluation period for a prescription and he put me on sick leave for three days.

After 72 hours I simply call the Flight Surgeon back and tell them I had no ill effects and I can go back to work, regardless of whether I had or not.  I don’t need to write a letter or anything; they don’t need any information from my doctor; I just need to phone in.

So I got three free days off, courtesy of the FAA.  I had a bunch of stuff to do anyway.  Thanks, Uncle Sammy!

P.S.  By the way, no pink elephants yet either!

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