To the Doctor Who Made Me Feel Powerless as a Patient
To the doctor who cut our appointment short,
I went to see you because my body was failing me, and I didn’t know what it was. As a trained professional, I thought you had the answer to what was wrong with my health. I had a story to tell about my symptoms, my concerns, my fears — it was my illness narrative. I was eager to share it with you.
As a professional patient, I came prepared with my “medical resume.” My name, date of birth and address appeared across the top with my medical conditions listed below: asthma, pituitary adenoma, diabetes insipidus, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, Raynaud’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma. And as a result of a traumatic iatrogenic brain injury, I also included seizure disorder, dyskinesia and physical balance problems. I wanted you to know I was a responsible and fully informed patient.
When you read my medical history, you became apprehensive, doubtful and cold. You seemed to question my understanding of what I was doing in your office, and by your tone, you questioned my intelligence.
You gave me a cursory examination and were quick to end my consultation. I was left speechless by your behavior. I am a litigator and a former public defender in Manhattan and the Bronx. And as the only English-speaking person in my family, I have advocated for countless people in a myriad of settings, including doctors’ offices, but I couldn’t manage to advocate for myself. The minute I walk into any doctor’s office, something happens to my strong, loud mouthpiece, and I become a marshmallow. It’s like a gag is put on me. If I were a superwoman, the doctor’s office would be my Kryptonite. In part, that’s why I created the medical resume in the first place; I get so flustered around doctors I forget to mention important information.
This experience left me powerless. In the examination room, I believe doctors wield the power while patients sit, wait and obey. I lost my power to speak and voice my discontent when I saw the white lab coat with the embroidered “MD.” At first, I thought I was at fault. Maybe doctors don’t know how to see and hear patients like me. Maybe they’re afraid of the potential medical risks we represent. But then I realized it’s not just me. I’m within the expected range of patients you see and to whom you provide medical care.
I’m not asking anyone for a miracle or a cure; I’m asking you to be my ally. My exceptional health profile does, inevitably, alter the patient-doctor dynamic. Doctors have to be more attuned to my care and ask more questions, but that doesn’t mean they get to treat me in an insensitive manner.
By not being interested in my illness, you failed to form any kind of relationship, let alone a doctor-patient one. As an ally, you were supposed to listen empathetically, act accountably and together, we could’ve diagnosed my medical problem. Instead, you had your own agenda and ignored me, the patient.
A partnership between doctor and patient leads to better medical care. The doctor needs to hear the patient’s narrative in order to properly diagnose. If the doctor doesn’t invite an open dialogue, I don’t believe they’re practicing humane medicine.
We need to put a stop to these cold, detached patient examinations, and forge open communication between doctor and patient. Both sides will get better results.
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