Step 1 – Smile.
I know being a doctor is serious business and for some they are in the life-saving business on a daily basis. I get it. Yet, the more serious the issue is, the more a smile, especially a gentle, tender, kind or caring one, can help ease the anxiety and open the door to better conversations.
Step 2 – Don’t lead with a script.
You know, the one you’ve rehearsed a hundred times with a hundred other patients. The one you lead with because you don’t want to hear all their questions and you’re tired of repeating yourself over and over. I get it. It’s probably the most boring part of your job. Yet, I’m here. I showed up amidst my fear with my own list of questions and it would help to know that you see me and hear me… first.
Step 3 – Don’t dismiss any questions.
You’ve heard them all before I’m sure. You hate Dr. Google. You dislike or even dread people like me who do research and look up what questions to ask your surgeon before they surgically remove a questionable mass from a very delicate part of your body. Yet, I’m here and you’re here and life has brought us together. So please just listen with an open heart and mind. I promise not to take up all your time, but I’m afraid for my health and my life and my husband and my children. Dismissing my questions dismisses my anxiety and my fears, which brings me to…
Step 4 – Don’t diminish legitimate fears.
Everyone has different fears for different reasons. Whether rational or irrational, they are legitimate and very real to the person who has them. Diminishing them isn’t going to help anybody feel better about the process or procedure. Perhaps it’ll make your work easier or your day go by faster, but it doesn’t help the life sitting across from you in that vulnerable position on the hospital bed feel any better or go home to their loved ones a better or happier person.
Step 5 – Don’t neglect the 1%.
The side effects and rare occurrences of any procedure or drug should not be left out of the conversation. Patients, people, we deserve to be presented with the whole picture when making life-changing or life-altering decisions. Your colleagues’ neglect of the 1% left me unable to walk with a completely atrophied leg and life-altering ramifications, from a “natural” procedure for which there was not one mention of that possibility. You’re not helping by not speaking the whole truth.
Step 6 – Stop trying to sell me on “the standard.”
Just because something is the standard way of doing things doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for my unique situation. Look at the chart, more than once, review the facts before you in this particular case and let’s discuss that… not what you do as a matter of practice. Is it necessary for me, right now, in this situation? If not, then admit it, be honest. Don’t sell me on something I don’t need and could cause the 1% that you’re not telling me about either.
Step 7 – Standard physical boundaries always apply.
Without exception, boundaries still exist in a hospital room and should be respected. If I’m fully aware, awake and functional, don’t untie my gown or touch my scar without asking or giving me notice. You wouldn’t do that to someone walking down the street, so what makes you think it’s okay just because I’m sitting in a hospital gown in front of you?
Friends, if you’ve endured these, may I tell you how sorry I am. Being devalued, dismissed and diminished when you are already feeling scared and vulnerable is adding insult to injury in ways that cannot be described.
Can I also tell you that it’s okay, even necessary, to speak up and out about these when they happen? Talk to someone, the doctor, a nurse, a friend. Share about your experience, make a plan for how to react next time.
I suppose this is my speaking out because all these happened today in my appointment with a high level breast surgeon in Seattle. For now, I’m avoiding by hiding (in my bed tent) and hibernating (under the blankets) and binging (Netflix and paleo ginger molasses cookies)… and honestly not a smidge of guilt for it all (okay, maybe a little). Even if it last for 24 hours or longer, I’m going to listen to my body and my mind and my heart and overwhelm them with love, nurturing and self care.
I’m here. I’m human. I’m frightened. This is how I’m coping.