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The Things You Get Excited About When You're a Seasoned Patient

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There are certain things you become accustomed to when you are a seasoned patient that the well are not privy to. You become complacent with your impatience. It’s the only place where you have to be OK with waiting hours for an appointment. You would never be OK with a two-hour wait for your hairstylist, but here, you become a hostage, and the ransom is your health. 

You become excited by the little things, like when a tech can place an IV the first and only time, or, even better, when you don’t have to get changed into a gown for a test. Somehow, when you have to untangle yourself from your clothes in some small changing room as they wait with a clipboard outside the door, along with your clothes you lose your autonomy, joining the sea of the nameless. You have a wristband, you are a birthdate and a series of numbers and possible allergies, a liability, a fall risk, over and over. You become lost in a vortex of protocol.

It doesn’t matter if you have had a dozen MRIs and you dressed appropriately with no metal clasps on your bra, because “Once there was a woman who got burned by metallic threads in her clothing and so everyone has to wear a gown.” She’s gone and ruined it for us all. I hope she’s OK, but I don’t want a gown because I came prepared. I’m not wearing metal clasps and I have no decorative threads; I’m wearing all-black-cotton everything, mourning the person I used to be. So yes, it’s exciting when you don’t have to don a paper-thin gown and cross your arms over your breasts in the meat locker-cold hospital. It’s like walking away from whoever might be waiting for you in the waiting room through a portal where they get to stay back and be a human, and you go join the ranks of the ill. They are an army and they look as such, all the same with skid-free socks. You become a checkmark on the schedule of a weary technician, one person closer to hitting the spinning doors of their shift. 

One of the most exciting things is getting the doctor’s nurse on the phone the first time. People who do not live this reality do not know the frustration of the phone tree. They think they do, when they call the bank or the grocery store pharmacy. But they don’t know what it’s like to call, over and over again, several times per day, to have the numbers memorized just to get the phone to ring and speak with a real voice; any voice — even a cranky one. They don’t know what it’s like to ask to speak to the nurse, and be told she isn’t available or have it ring to leave a voicemail, to then miss the call when she does call back, and feel the crushing disappointment that yes, you have to start the process all over again. They don’t have the greeting memorized: “Thank you for calling the office of XYZ. If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and dial 9-1-1, otherwise, please listen carefully as our menu options have changed. If you are a physician, please dial #1. If you are a new patient please dial #2. If you are an existing patient, and would like to schedule, change, or cancel an appointment, please dial #3… if you would like to speak to XYZ’s nurse please dial #4 now.” People who have never heard this eight times in one day will never know what it’s like to push the number 4 so hard on their screen that it turns into a violet nebula under their finger, jaw clenched, foot swinging wildly like a windmill. 

They may break a foot one day and get a sneak peek at the kind of frustration a chronic patient deals with, but it’s just that. It’s a glimpse in time, and they, much like that exhausted technician, get to swing through the revolving doors into the crisp air of the real world, while another patient circles the gears back into this reality.

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Originally published: October 11, 2016
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