By the time one reaches middle age and beyond, it’s not unusual to need the services of a variety of physicians with numerous specialties, each of whose name and phone number take up a page or more in one’s phone book. At least, that’s true for me and most of my peers.
It’s also true that both medicine and the role of physicians are drastically different from when I was a child in the 1940s and 50s. In many respects, the changes have been for the better, certainly with regard to all the high tech advances.
However, where once a family doctor made house calls (for which, I might add, there was never an extra fee), today most doctors are so burdened they seldom have enough time to spend with their patients, many of whom are kept waiting long past their scheduled appointment time. Private practitioners are also deciding to join large group practices in order to get coverage for their patients and to stay financially solvent themselves.
That being said, doctors have been rigorously trained to diagnose and to treat not just a person’s disease or injured anatomical part, but also to do no harm to the patient. And, since by definition, a patient is someone who is already vulnerable and compromised, common sense tells us that it’s the physician’s obligation to treat the whole person, to take into consideration a patient’s probable fears and concerns, while at the same time evaluating the presenting problem and determining the best course of action.
In general, I consider myself to be fortunate. The physicians I’ve chosen for myself are all exemplary: intelligent, respectful, thoughtful, caring people who have given me every reason to trust their expertise as well as their concern for my well-being.
I can’t say that I haven’t bumped into a few whose offices I wished I had never entered, but that’s true in any profession. Not everyone is talented. Not everyone is caring. But, I can also tell you that throughout the years I've been in practice, my patients have often talked about doctors whose manner was so insulting and whose care so questionable, that I've had to spend their session time helping them to feel empowered, to know that they had a right to be their own advocates and to believe that they never had to suffer from anyone’s emotional abuse - doctors included.
This brings me to why I am writing this particular blog this particular week. Some say that we teach what we need to learn. That may be true, but as my blood started to boil when I was in the office of a highly successful physician this past week, I was reminded of all that I’ve been teaching these many years. I won’t lie and say that I had not been forewarned. I won’t leave out the part where the referring doctor told me that the man he was recommending had NO bedside manner and could even be abrasive. I knew all that but my priority was to be provided with an excellent treatment plan. I didn't particularly need someone who would also be “warm and fuzzy.”
However, when the physician had me in his office and quickly scanned the lengthy medical history forms I'd been asked to complete, he began to offer a plan of action without even looking at me. He left no time nor did he have any desire to hear anything I, the patient, might need to say. He touched my knees, did some range of motion maneuvers, had a technician do some ex-rays and then asked if I wished to think about his plan of attack or wanted to begin receiving his protocol, a series of injections.
I was so delighted to learn that what he was offering could stave off surgery for years that I agreed to have that first injection. His hand was heavy, the pain significant. But, still, it was not surgery. I could, I convinced myself, deal with his unpleasant manner and inability to communicate respectfully.
However, when I returned the following week for my second and final injection, which was to hold me over for four months, the noted doctor was on vacation and the injection was administered by a gentler soul. The actual pain was minimal. My mood upon leaving had not been darkened, and my personhood had not felt threatened.
So, what’s my beef? Why am I about to rant? I hope it’s because I want to process what happened to me and, at the same time, help any of you who may encounter similar situations. You see, the story hasn’t ended yet!
When I came to his office the following week to review my progress, as scheduled, the doctor was in a foul mood. I knew that because I could hear him shouting in the hallway. He was having a phone conversation with someone concerning an uncle he clearly believed wasn’t getting the home care he paid for and deserved. My problem was that he then brought all the anger and frustration at whomever he’d been speaking with into the examination room, and immediately began to ram a series of questions down my throat. I’ll spare you the details of what ensued. Suffice it to say, I think I eventually found my voice and did let him know what I thought of his behavior ... and that I resented not being treated as a whole person but only as two injured anatomical parts, namely my two knees.
My husband, who had been able to accompany me, also helped by telling the doctor – most respectfully, I might add – that it appeared as if it were burdensome for him to listen to his patients and asked him to please allow me to speak.
Did said doctor eventually apologize and offer to shake my hand? Yes! But the grief he had caused me until that point, the insinuated insults and implied knowledge of who he assumed I was reminded me of all my patients over the years who had been treated similarly but who had no voice with which to challenge their doctor’s so-called authority.
White coat or no coat, highly recommended or found in the yellow pages, doctors do not have license to abuse their patients. We are the consumer. We can choose to suffer the slings and arrows of any "professional" or we can leave and never return. The choice is ours! We mustn't allow anyone to bully us into believing otherwise.
So, remember this, if ever you find the need to do so: Part of the modern Hippocratic oath sworn to by all physicians upon graduation includes this statement: “I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”
Here’s to health, excellent medical care, and good decisions on our part to assist ourselves in maintaining our physical and emotional well-being!