“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” It’s an old quote, and often used but do you think it’s true? It reminds me of an incident, many years ago, when my family took my Dad out to dinner for his birthday. We were all stretched out along a large table at our favorite Italian restaurant, classic red and white checked tablecloth with candles lit and were having a festive time but found it marred by Dad’s rapidly growing irritation. The waitress kept calling him “Grandpa.” “So what are we having tonight, Grandpa. So, it’s your birthday? Happy Birthday, Grandpa.”
I was sitting across from Dad and could see the irritation building within him. Finally, after one of her little episodes, he looked at her and said, “So Miss, have you ever been out with a Grandpa? If you haven’t, maybe you ought to try it sometime. You might be surprised.”
That poor ignorant woman just went on about her work, clueless, but I knew how much that simple name had irritated and annoyed him and these many years later it still comes to mind.
When I was a working RN, and a nursing student, we were always admonished to treat patients with respect by calling them Miss, Mr. or Mrs. We were urged to only call those patients younger than ourselves by their first names and then, only if urged to do so by the patient themselves. We were absolutely forbidden to call a patient by their diagnosis, such as, “The appendectomy in room 12 wants water.” Bad nurse, bad nurse! I remember one occurrence, when I worked as a House supervisor in one hospital when I wrote up a particularly flippant nurse’s aide for hollering up the hall, “So what’s with the old geezers in room 14?” It makes me shudder to remember it. As I recall, she resigned out of utter hatred for me. I know, it’s hard to believe, isn’t it? She was the same woman who called all the doctors by their first names, as in, “Hey George, how’s your day goin’?” Oh my.
Respect is often hard won but titles do reflect that respect and they do matter. It’s soothing to a patient to be treated with honor, esteem and yes, even reverence. The patient is us. They are our mothers and fathers; our children and our friends. Many of us know what it is to be that patient in the bed, in the exam chair or sitting, in a paper gown on an exam table with our bare behind stuck to the paper. Isn’t it hard enough in times like that to hold onto our self-respect and dignity without being treated without honor?
Being struck down by disease, daily pain and multiple life changes is difficult enough without being robbed of the respect we have earned over a lifetime of experience, education and achievements. I know I’m standing on a soapbox and proud of it. This whole subject really causes me to breathe fire; therefore, what am I going to do about this? I am going to follow two rules I learned from Thomas Jefferson. The first is to “take things all the time by their smooth handle.” I will use tact, and another of his words of wisdom; “When annoyed count 10, before you speak; if very annoyed, count 100.” We were taught in nursing school that hearing is the last to go but I’m sure that’s true; it is far too often dignity.
I recently had a traumatic experience which put all my best declarations to the extreme test. Several months ago, my internist I had seen only a few times in the last two years, threw what I can only call a “fit.” He was at the end of his working day, had left me waiting for an hour. When he appeared, he was to fill my medications and to inject my knee. When I told him this and also added I had had a bad injection in my buttocks which had hurt my sciatic nerve from a chemo injection, that seemed to set him off. It was my understanding my primary care/internist would be interested. Boy, was I mistaken? He flew into a rage and said he never did knee injections and wrote scripts both in the same day, especially for a Medicare patient. I happen to have Medicare as well as a supplemental policy which is as good as any other. He shouted at me that his staff would never have booked it that way. Well, they did. I was very clear with his fairly incompetent staff when booking my appointment. That wasn’t the end of it as he raged and said I had far too many problems, far too many specialists and none of them ever communicated adequately with him.
I told him I was also tired as I had sat in a chair for an hour and then he raged more saying he had to wait when he went to the doctor, too. His medical assistant stood behind him smiling at me and looking very embarrassed. When I stood to leave, he took me by the arm and said, “Let’s not tell Jim about this, okay?” I replied, well pissed off by then, “Why, because he’s a lot bigger than you are?” I wondered if short man syndrome was at play here. Then, I left, still crying.
I waited several months before returning to his office and only when I had to, to get a script refilled. I dreaded it but was relieved when he apologized profusely for his behavior on my previous visit. I told him I understood he had had a long, tiring week and hoped we could put an end to it. He apologized again. On his way out the door after the visit he apologized again and I said, “Please don’t worry about it. I was a Director and a Nursing Supervisor and I’ve had doctors yell at me before.”
I thought or rather hoped all was well, although I remained shaken. I have recently been having a bad round of irritable bowel syndrome, which I’ve struggled with for over 30 years. The cramping and problems became intense so I scheduled an appointment with him. They worked me in and told me to be on time because he could only give me 15 minutes. Well, I am usually early, rarely late. He kept me waiting 45 minutes and was very angry when he entered the room. He was rude, rough when he examined my abdomen and then I asked him if he was still upset then perhaps, I should get another doctor. He said, he thought I should. It was all very rude. Then he said, “You know, you are the most condescending person I have ever met. Don’t you ever lecture me about medicine, I don’t like it.” I was stunned. I thought I had been gracious and had always tried to befriend his staff who were all very standoffish. You all know me from my writings. I love people and getting to know them; well, not so easy with this bunch. Then he said, “I don’t know how your last doctor put up with you for so many years.” I stood up and did not cry but was fuming mad, humiliated and ready to smack him. I didn’t. I stormed out.
When I got to the car, I explained it all to Jim, my husband and asked him to drive me to the office building across the street. I knew there were a new group of physicians there. I walked in there within ten minutes and the office assistant in there greeted me by name in a very friendly fashion. She used to work for my oncologist. She asked if she could help me and then I put both of my elbows on the reception desk and began to sob. I said, through tears, “I need an internist.”
She handed me a box of Kleenex and patted my arm then reached for four business cards and began to tell me about their doctors. I chose the one internist and asked her if he liked being a doctor, was he kind and did he treat his patients with respect. She assured me he did all three and was a kindly, very smart man who had brought 400 patients with him from an adjoining town when he moved his practice. I couldn’t get an appointment until June but seeing the condition I was in she asked me if I could make a 7:20AM appt. I laughed through tears and said, “Can I wear my pajamas?” She laughed and said certainly. I won’t of course, but I may sleep in my clothes and have trouble walking but I’ll be there.
I know the good Lord led me across that street and pray this new fella will be kindly, smart, caring and informed. Most importantly, when I left there, I felt as if I had reclaimed a bit of my dignity, if not all.
As patients we are part of the human condition, allowed to feel pain and indignation and should expect the most professional care possible of our bodies as well as our spirits. We are often partially naked of body but should never leave an appointment feeling naked of spirit. My dear daughter took the necessary HIPPA paper work up to the nasty doctor’soffice and one week later my entire chart was ready for me. They charged me $65 for it. I don’t care. I just didn’t want him “dirtying the water” so to speak with my new doctor. If I’m such a terrible person with the audacity to have opinions about my own medical care then I guess the new one will have to find it out for himself. I read the first page of the chart and it was filled with untruths. It will not be taken to the new doctor. I don’t know what the jerk doctor’s problems are but the only way I can cleanse my mind of this encounter is to pray for him and whatever his problems are. You might be reassured to know I get on quite well, even in a very loving and warm manner with my other five doctors and am still confused by this. I just have to remember, physicians are human, too, even if they forget to behave occasionally and behave in a way Hippocrates would find despicable.
Personal dignity matters my dear readers, always stand up for yours, even when you have trouble standing.