I’m one of those persons who’re always in the hospital/clinic, but was never really a patient. Well, of course, I did get sick a lot of times, but never to the point that I really needed non-routine procedures or tests. The worst illness I’ve had was having lumbar pain severe enough that I couldn’t walk. I got x-rays of my lumbar spine and it turned out that there was only a very slight narrowing between the 4th and 5th lumbar vertebrae. Losing weight and regular exercise have helped me counter it. So, other than that, I’m perfectly fine. I’ve never really experienced what being a patient was like.
But several months ago, I started having irregularity in my menstrual cycle. This would already be bothersome as I’ve never had that much problems gynecologically. Menstrual flow has always been more or less the same and menstrual period would almost always be on time, except for rare occasions when I’ve got 45 days of delay. And that was when I was reviewing for the board exam and when I got into a really stressful fight with an ex-boyfriend.
Well, recently I’ve been having problems with the menstruation that I decided to seek the consult of an ob-gyne. Though I’m a doctor and has an idea what the probable diagnosis could be and what procedures would have to be done, still I was a bit nervous. It’ll be my first time having a pelvic exam and a transvaginal ultrasound then. It’ll be my first pap smear. But because, being a doctor, I know I’ve to go through all of these to know what’s wrong with my body and to get well.
It was also my first time to experience having to wait on a doctor. It was my first time to go to a doctor’s clinic, to say that I’ve come for consult as a new patient, to list my name, to fill up a patient chart that is of my own, and to be told that I’ll just have to sit outside and wait for my turn. I could have told the receptionist that I was a student of the ob-gyne and that I’m a doctor and perhaps, she could have seen to it that I don’t have to wait. But I didn’t. It just didn’t seem right. I think I needed to experience how it is like for a patient to be waiting for his doctor to see him; to be doing time checks almost every minute, wondering when I would be finally called; to be looking at who comes in and who comes out of the clinic, thinking that maybe the receptionist has allowed several people to come ahead of the line because she knew them (and she did, several people did drop by and went in, saying they only need a minute to “show something” to the doctor, which of course, lasted more than the said time). I can feel patience slowly draining away. But I reminded myself that I’m a patient that day.
Then, finally my turn came. I was shown into the office and the ob-gyne started taking my history. I answered her questions dutifully, but in my mind, I was already wrestling with the idea of telling her that I’m also a doctor. I’m a bit embarrassed having to tell her that I’m one, as that subtlely implies that she shouldn’t charge me a professional fee because I’m a doctor too, and yet, I’d be more than willing to pay for her services. But on the other hand, she needed to know, because I’m sure, in time, she’d know. And so, I told her. Of course, the expected response was, “why didn’t you tell me earlier?” I just smiled. Then we got into a more thorough discussion about what possibly could have happened to me, what would be the necessary tests to do and what would be the alternatives. It was at that time that I fully realized how important it is for the doctor to be able to assess the capacity of his patient’s understanding. Knowing such would enable the doctor to calibrate his explanation to the level which would lead to a greater understanding and thus, a more informed patient. I could almost hear my decury facilitator speaking, “tell the patient enough information to make an informed consent. Do not clutter his mind with technicalities that would only confuse him.” If she didn’t know that I share her profession, she would have stuck to the average explanation, enough to inform a patient with no medical background. But when she knew that I’m a doctor (and therefore, already know that average explanation), she was able to go more in-depth, as a specialist to a general practitioner. In the end, I was able to benefit more because I learned more, even those stuff I’ve only known vaguely before, because my practice did not concern her area of specialty that much.
As for the pelvic exam, I was still nervous, even though what’s supposed to happen. I think, as a woman, it’s already innate that I’ve to protect what’s down there from any possible “invasions” (well, except for those circumstances which, I know, you’re already aware of). I tried to relax, but it feels ultimately weird to have a stranger’s fingers poking in that sensitive area. Well, now I know how my patients felt when I’ve done pelvic exams on them and understood why still seemed uncomfortable and, sometimes, irritated, even if there’s no reason to be in pain (when, after all, they’re already sexually active). As Doc Manggy said, it’s hard to earn the trust of a patient in just 5 minutes.
The next step was to get a transvaginal ultrasound done. I was at the waiting area of the ultrasound section of the hospital, filling up the necessary forms and, again, waiting for my turn. I tried to relax by plurking that I was about to get violated with a probe (which elicited funny and grossed-out reactions from the male plurker-friends). And then, there’s this alarm that suddenly went off in my head that I could have a male ob-gyne ultrasound specialist doing the procedure on me, because I saw one of the male ob-gynes there and, unfortunately, he was also my professor back in med school. And that reminded me of my article for the recent edition of TBR. Wonderful. Maybe I’m getting my karma for what I said about male ob-gynes. Ahahaha.
But fortunately, it was a female ob-gyne who did the procedure. I guess the reluctance to be examined by a male ob-gyne doesn’t stem from mistrust, but rather, it’s just some sort of “reflex”. Like what I’ve said, women have been conditioned since childhood to protect what’s down there from any possible invasions. And that’s just that. Well, if not given any choice, really, it would have been just okay to be examined by a male ob-gyne. It did give me a little laugh, though, being reminded of what I’ve just said about male ob-gynes.
And so, after a while, I got my results. Not very good, but I’m definitely not that very seriously ill. Nothing like good medicine, lifestyle modification, and compliance can’t cure. Of course, all doctors know that doctors do get sick, too. But having to experience all of these makes the realization full. As what has been said in the movie, The Matrix, “there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”
And so, from now on, I’m a doctor who’s a patient of another doctor.