Most doctors are well meaning. They do not deliberately make mistakes or have their patients suffer. But within the past 11 days I suffered when two internists "got it wrong." It took a third doctor, a cancer specialist, to get it right and ease my pain. The story has lessons for you.

It begins with a flight from Seattle to Detroit about 10 days ago. Toward the end of the long journey I had a slight sore throat on the right side. No big deal. Over the next two days, as I helped my oldest child, son Ari, get settled as a freshman at the University of Michigan, the pain got worse – so bad it was becoming harder to eat and waking me several times a night. Throat lozenges didn't help much.

Strep throat? Very possibly. On the day of departure I decide to wait until my next destination, Los Angeles, to seek care. I felt so bad at the end of that long flight I asked to be driven straight to an urgent care center. The kindly board certified internist saw me quickly, took one look and prescribed an antibiotic. "You have an infection and a fever." "What about a Strep test?," I asked. "No need," he said. It was Friday afternoon of the Labor Day Holiday weekend. "You should be feeling better within a day or two," he said.

I marched straight to the pharmacy, started the antibiotic and ibuprofen, and purchased more benzocaine lozenges for topical pain control.

Day one – no change

Day two – no change. I couldn't eat without ice water and was losing weight and sleep. Day three – no change and still suffering during a visit to in-laws south of LA, my brother-in-law strongly suggested we visit a second urgent care center. It was 9 p.m. on Sunday night. Another board certified internist. Quick look, quick swab of the throat. "It's viral," he said. "Would an anti-viral medicine help?," I asked. "Too late," the doc said. As he prescribed a lidocaine mouth swish and something to help me sleep. "Your body will have to fight this on its own."

Remember, I am a leukemia survivor who worries about my body "fighting on its own" very well and also the negative long-term effects of previous leukemia treatment on my immune system.

The severe throat pain continued, although, Monday through Wednesday I had a strategy of numbing my throat to eat and a way to knock myself out when it was time to sleep.

Thursday brought a business trip to Houston and to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center where my "super cancer doctors" practice. I was to have a meeting with one Friday morning. I emailed him: "Would you mind taking a quick look at my throat?" He immediately wrote back that he'd be happy to help. The next morning the quick look resulted in a quick prescription for an anti-viral, Valtrex. What about what the internist said, that it was too late? The specialist shook his head and wrinkled his nose, "This will take care of it. You have suffered long enough!"

So what happened? The medicine quickly started making a difference and I have been watching my throat dramatically heal. I am eating everything and sleeping. This was not a desirable way to lose 6-8 pounds.

Lessons learned: Doctors #1 and #2 meant well but they needed to give me a plan for what to do if they were wrong. For example, with Dr. #1 what was I supposed to do if nothing changed? And if it was viral, was their another approach? With Dr. #2, how could he be so sure it was too late to do anything? The relief that came with Dr. #3 says a lot to me: 1) it confirms the variability of care and that you can suffer in the process so must be a very strong advocate 2) it proves to me how my insurance company, as are many others, is paying "through the nose" for medical mistakes. If the first doctor had gotten it right I would have not sought further care and hundreds of dollars would have been saved and my productivity would have been boosted. Unfortunately, this waste of resources probably happens way too often. I was thinking of writing the medical director at my health insurance company but I fear he/she would say "You are not telling me anything I don't already know."

The good news is I am back on track and finished a great visit to Houston and the wonderful people at the Anderson Network there. It was thrilling to meet hundreds of cancer survivors and always great to connect with my doctor, Michael Keating.

And the next time I get a sore throat that's persistent – or any new health concern, you can bet I'll be better informed and a lot more proactive.

Wishing you the best of health,

Andrew