Many years ago when I was a new nurse and went to work on a medical/surgical unit one of the surgeon’s warned me to never put two patients who were having the same surgery in a room together; as all the rooms were dual occupancy. He said they would compare their conditions, medications and healing progress and of course, he was correct. Each of us heal and mend in our own time, have our own medications specifically selected for us and respond individually. That’s a good thing, actually. This is a memory that lives on in me as a fine example of how different we each are one from another. I also found it appalling when as a nurse manager, I would occasionally hear, some nurse or nurse’s aide bellow up the hallway, “Hey the gallbladder in room 22 wants water.” Oh dear, gallbladders sitting in beds and thirsty at that. What a thought. There are times in our lives when we must stand up for our rights and privileges as individuals. Actually, I can think of few times when it isn’t necessary. Sometimes we are intimidated by those in powerful positions but that must not deter us. If you’re not on your own side in this fight for life, than who will be?
The cookie cutter approach to medicine has always been appalling to me. Each of us is as individual as a snowflake and should be treated that way. Life is complex and complicated and appears to be getting more so however each of us is simply a mixture of what we’ve experienced, learned, rejected or had put upon us both physically and mentally. This is never more so than in the area of our health. I have never been to a doctor’s office where there is a quiga board, a crystal ball or a gypsy mind reader, have you? Therefore, it is the patients, you and I who are responsible for informing new doctors or reminding old ones of what they should know about us. I would also suggest that you keep an open mind about other fields of medicine such as chiropractic, homeopathy and acupuncture. Main street medicine is not the only game in town for many of us. Many of us have also found much relief from physical therapy and the rehab practices.
I have recently gone through a long siege at the dentist. Lest you think I don’t brush, let me reassure you I do and actually own a waterpik and have no idea why I developed so many dental problems in the same year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Well, actually, that’s not quite true. I do have a couple of ideas. I also fractured my back by bending over and have severe osteoporosis and believe that may affect my teeth and indeed, anybody’s teeth who also share this condition of loss of bone density. I also have Sjogren’s Syndrome and for those of you who aren’t familiar with it one of its symptoms is dry mouth, dry throat and also dry eyes. However, in my case my nose runs like a big, friendly, overly enthusiastic dog’s. Dry mouth can lead to tooth decay, although I have made a point of drinking fluids all day long because I know I should and dry throat demands it.
As most of you already know I also suffer from a disease of the cartilage which has affected many parts of my body and causes me to have the most inconvenient problem of not being able to sit for long. It hurts my bum. These problems along with arthritis all up and down the spine make going to the dentist a bit of a challenge. I won’t call it a nightmare because my dentist is wonderful as are the staff who work for him. They are the friendliest office crew I have ever encountered and that does go a long way toward stemming the tide of shots of novocaine, drills whirring in your mouth and all that pick and ax routine that make you feel as though your brain will emerge at any moment. It makes shrill screaming, on the part of the patient, much more difficult when someone is behaving kindly toward you.
Each time any of us are faced with uncomfortable procedures, it’s a good idea to arrive armed to the teeth (pun), about our own condition and where our problem areas lie. You and I are responsible for our health problems being managed and when necessary to inform others when we need assistance. For instance, I can’t lean back in the dental chair without a couple of rolled up towels supporting my neck. We each have to learn how to speak up on behalf of ourselves and our own comfort and safety. Sitting for a long visit is also problematic for many of us and my trips and treatments had to be spread out a bit more perhaps than they would be for others. Ten trips to the dentist later, I am now fully armed and ready to bite the head off of anyone who irritates me.
My last visit was particularly gruesome due to the location of three cavities and the fact my mouth is only so large, in spite of what my writing might indicate. I proposed to the kind dentist that, instead of having clouds overhead, he might want to print a rating system on the ceiling, complete with expletives. He could have a list of ten complaints or curse words. That way a patient with cotton in their mouth or clamps holding their jaw open could simply point and utter, “Five and three.” I don’t expect he’ll take me up on the suggestion because he’s an extremely clean living fellow and not given to expletives himself. My last comment to him was that my last visit was definitely a “number two,” and all that that implies for those of you, like me, who have juvenile minds.
I believe each of us has an obligation to stand up for ourselves; well, maybe not literally while at the dentist, but you get the gist. In this last year since I’ve been seeing so many new physicians in the field of cancer unlike the rheumatologists and dermatologists I usually see, I have seen a look of amazement cross several faces. My list of diagnoses has dropped many a jaw. My list of medications is long and detailed. I always have an updated version in my purse to prevent any misunderstandings.
Far too often patients go to a new physician and expect him to play guessing games. This is not the time to play coy. Tell him/her what is wrong, what medications you’re taking and what your significant history is. So often you sit in the lobby and fill out fifteen pages of paperwork and the doctor doesn’t see it because it’s stuck in a file so don’t be afraid to ask if he/she has seen the library book you just wrote in the lobby. Speak up. This is your life we’re talking about and they are there because of you. Big mouths unite…speak up. I have found by being a bit more aggressive, doctors tend to remember you more easily, see you as individuals and I suspect, secretly respect you for it as long as you don’t overdo it. Be respectful, this means no swearing, spitting or biting. Control your emotions as much as possible. Those weeping conversations full of unintelligible words are frustrating for a stranger to deal with. The only thing they communicate is your level of emotional trauma and that’s not always good. The last thing you want is for the words “nut job” to go onto your computerized chart where it will live forever, even if you don’t.
I have also found my general practice doctor often becomes frustrated if I lay too many of my rheumatology problems at her feet. I just hit them lightly and move on to her areas of expertise which is usually the current problem such as the flu or my basic medications. Some of us have health histories that are overwhelming and although they draw sympathy, they take up far too much time and remember, sympathy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s a fine line between the doctor dreading to see you and the doctor helping you. Lay it out there but don’t overdo it. Keeping it light can also help. The doctors have to get through the day just as we do and the business of medicine gets mighty heavy for them sometimes, just as it does for us. Speak up, don’t throw up. Stand up, don’t fall down and always be as pleasant and respectful as you can be unless the doctor you’re seeing is a real jerk, then forget all of the above and get the heck out of there and find another one. Why do people stay with doctors that are unkind, rude or incompetent? I can only think of two reasons: insurance problems or being too inhibited to get up and leave.
Some individuals think a doctor is a doctor and one is as good as another. That is completely untrue. You and I deserve the best. A doctor’s reputation usually speaks quite loudly and now with the age of computers it’s much easier to read reviews or look up something about someone. I have often relied on my trusty family practitioner who has always kept me in touch with the best in each field of practice. I trust her knowing she has my welfare in mind. If you and I are to have the best care we must always speak up and on rare occasions, get up and walk out. Most importantly of all, for the best medical care we must let our health care providers know the facts, the details and the pertinent information about our bodies. I understand it’s not always easy. After all, I have to tell them all I have a bad bum. It’s a great “ice breaker.” Funny, but that also always evokes a smile.