Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dear Doctor: What Not To Say

In the next few days I’ll be going to the doctor’s for my three-month post-cancer-surgery tests. I’m naturally anxious, afraid even. I’ve been found cancer free twice and cancer-not-so-free three times, so if you do the math, you can see there’s good cause for concern.

My surgeon knows me, ahem, intimately you might say, and I’m on friendly terms with most of the people in his office. They’re all pretty good people, but on occasion they behave less than ideally.  So this is for you, Drs. K, Dr. L and Co.; a primer on how to behave and what not to say to a patient.

Do not say:
“Uh ho.” This when you are scoping out my innards with one of those clever tiny little camera probes. “Uh oh” is simply not reassuring.

“Hmmm. Will you look at that!” Not recommended while the patient is on his back clenching his jaw and driving his fingernails through the palms of his hands.

I’d also suggest that, when you’re conversing with another doctor in the patient’s presence, you stop pretending the patient is either not there or deaf. One of my surgeons once said to his anesthesiologist, “How does he feel? How would you feel if someone was about to butcher you?” This did nothing to raise my comfort level.

And from an anesthesiologist: “Hey, don’t worry, I haven’t lost a patient yet.”

From the nurse trying to insert an IV needle. “You have really bad veins. Let me try again.”

From the nurse pushing my bed to the operating room, to another nurse doing the same with another patient. “Race ya!”  Actually, that one’s pretty funny…

From the nurse inputting information in the pre-op room. “Are you sure that’s how you spell your name?”

Here’s another grievance: On two occasions, you--the surgeon--had left the hospital by the time I came to. I was told I’d get to talk with you in three days to a week, so I left the hospital without knowing if the surgical procedure was a success.  That’s thoughtless and inappropriate. I understand missing your tee time is important, but so am I.

Also, when I do finally get to see you to learn the outcome of the surgery, don’t keep me waiting unattended for an hour and fifteen minutes. At least get a nurse to check in on me every now and then to make sure I haven’t opened a vein in the waiting room.

Don’t say, “I have an important thing to ask you,” and then query me about the French restaurants in the neighborhood.

Don’t tell me, “I know what it’s like,” unless you’ve suffered a bout of the same cancer I’m trying to combat.

And to all the other physicians I’ve seen during the years--do not say, “I have NEVER had any of my patients complain about the things you are complaining about.”

Don’t say, “It’s easier to remove it all.”

Or during a post-op assessment, “Don’t be so stressed!”

Or, “You may feel some discomfort.” Really? No shit!!

To the dentist--do not say “Oh, Dios mio!” when performing a root canal.

And finally, “Well, I just don’t know what to say…”







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