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To the Person Behind the Phone at My Doctor's Office

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This story was submitted for Girls With Guts by Lisa DeVenuta Durling

We have all been here before. Sitting at home, in pain, contemplating, sometimes for days, the phone call to the doctor’s office. For a refill for pain medication, or a call back because you’re experiencing new symptoms, or old ones are returning. You get the courage to dial but hang up, wishing you had a way out, but you’re the only one who can do it.

To the person behind the phone at my doctor’s office: You hold a tremendous power that you may not realize. You have the power to dictate the climate of the rest of my day. It can go from nervous, to reassured, if I am lucky, or from nervous, to utterly deflated within minutes. I hope as it rings I won’t get the snarky, “Doctor’s office, please hold,” so I am forced to wait for what can seem like the longest few minutes of my life, practicing in my mind what I want to say. My anxiety only intensifies as I wait.

When you return to the phone, all I ask is for you to be mindful of your words. I have Crohn’s disease, and am new to my temporary ileostomy. I also have fistulas that are painful, and when I have to tell you about my embarrassing symptoms, it’s not easy. I’m humiliated by disclosing such personal information to you, a stranger behind the phone, but you’re my hope right now.

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Please know that while I understand we all have bad days, mine are usually painful, and the tone you use and the reaction I get from you can shape my mood. So please be kind; you have no idea of the power you hold. Please don’t tell me, I “shouldn’t be in pain this soon after surgery,” don’t judge my asking for pain medication, or for a call from the doctor. Please don’t assume the doctor won’t refill it; that’s for them to decide, not you. Your reaction can be the reason why I don’t call, or come back for a while, or even switch practices. I need to feel comfortable calling you. You are more influential than you know.

My friend said it best when we recently discussed this topic. He said, “I wish they could understand that we aren’t looking to get high, we are looking for living with an amount of time with the significant absence of pain.” I have never heard it stated so eloquently, and with the exact point I wanted to make. Living in pain is full-time, and a lot of the time we are hiding it.

So, to the person behind the phone, please treat me kindly, and with respect. Please try your best to be courteous and to show professionalism. Don’t speak over me, let me talk, listen. Sometimes that’s all we need to begin the process of healing — for someone to simply listen.

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Thinkstock photo by Wavebreakmedia

Originally published: April 12, 2017
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