This week, I ended up having two consultations with doctors in two different settings, with HUGELY different reactions. One was exactly what we want from a doctor’s visit, the other was why people suffer at home instead of seeking treatment; both were lessons in power.
The first was a regularly scheduled appointment with my general physician (GP) to make sure that things are going well, that my medications don’t need to be adjusted, etc. I love my GP, Dr. M., who is 80 minutes away and who is also my sisters’ doctor. I started to see her after she took such good care of my sister, and in short order, she had sorted out problems that other doctors had told me were “nothing to worry about.” I gladly travel so far to see her because she takes time to listen and explain, and doesn’t talk to me like I’m an idiot.
This particular visit was initially just a routine check-up, but last week I got an injury that wasn’t healing like I thought it should. When I told her that I was worried, she didn’t cut me off or make light of my anxiety. When she examined it and explained that it is superficial thrombophlebitis (a blood clot near the surface), she didn’t add to my anxiety. She told me how to treat it and I could be on my merry way. She also noticed my weight loss, was really encouraging about it, and was just all around awesome.
When I left her office, I didn’t feel like I was just a file in her office. She is genuinely concerned for my well-being, like a doctor should be, and I consider her a kind of partner in the taking-care-of-myself mission. Even though I rarely see her, having a doctor who cares (and communicates that) is worth the drive. She is the doctor and I’m the patient, but there isn’t a huge power imbalance, and that works for me.
Today… today was something entirely different. Last night, when I left the gym, I noticed a few red bumps around my right eye. I figured I was breaking out a little – except that there were a few on my hands, too. Then there were a few on my arm. By mid-afternoon today, my face, arms, and torso were covered in red bumps that looked like chicken pox or measles or a million other things (WebMD.com offered anthrax as a possible diagnosis). Since I work with at-risk populations and this rash was setting in so fast, I opted to go to the ER (urgent care was closed and I couldn’t wait until Monday to find out if I am safe to work tomorrow).
I got to the ER and was seen in record time. I tried to explain what was happening, what my concerns were, and why I would go to the ER for something so potentially non-life-threatening. This time, though, the doctor was awful. He practically snarled at me. I tried to give him information that I thought would be helpful, like the fact that I’ve already had chicken pox and am not allergic to anything that causes this kind of reaction, but he cut me off, asking over and over and over if I’d had a sore throat. When he did the examination, he never explained what he was doing and was pretty gruff as he yanked down the waist band of my jeans and poked at my stomach. I’m hardly a prude, but a little respect goes a long way. He suggested it was bug bites, and I said it had been a week since I was around any bugs, and he rolled his eyes and said that it could be a delayed reaction. Well, OK, but I’ve never had a bug bite take a week to show up, and the eye roll wasn’t necessary.
After a few minutes, he said that he thinks it’s bug bites, but he’s going to prescribe treatment for scabies just in case. Despite the fact that it doesn’t look at all like scabies. Despite the fact that the bites are in all the wrong places for it to be scabies. Despite the fact that he didn’t test for scabies. Despite the fact that they don’t itch like scabies. *sigh*
Even WebMD.com didn’t think it was scabies (anthrax, maybe, scabies, no).
I was hurried out of the ER so that I could get to the pharmacy before they close – my whole ER visit lasting 20 minutes from start to finish. He hardly stood in the doorway of the room long enough to ask me who my GP is, gave me grief about seeing a doctor so far away, rolled his eyes when I asked if scabies was contagious enough to keep me from working, if in fact that’s what it is. He was rude. He was disrespectful, and he gave me the impression that I was inconveniencing him by needing to see a doctor.
In left this encounter feeling like my health wasn’t important to him, that my concerns were petty, and that he’d given me a scrip and sent me on my way just to get me out of his way. I know that ER docs serve a different role than GPs, but I’ve never had an ER doc who was that bad at bedside manner. It seemed pretty clear that he was the dominating person in the exchange, and I wasn’t going to get very far, no matter how hard I tried.
Being a pastor isn’t so terribly different. People generally come to me when something is wrong, hurting, or causing them pain. Sometimes it’s something that I think is less important, a problem that shouldn’t be such a big deal, or something that will heal itself in time, and often it’s something I can’t fix. Whether or not I have the answers that they are looking for, I can choose to have the attitude they are looking for. I want to be like Dr. M., ready to listen, to take them seriously, to help when I can. Even on days when people are interruptions, when their problems are mundane and I think I know better, I don’t want to be like the ER doc. I don’t get to choose my patients or their ailments, but I can choose how I treat them.