Monday, July 30, 2012

I HATE the dentist... sometimes I do, too!

photo courtesy of Des Moines register, taken during dental school

I hear a lot of complaints both from patients and friends about dentists and doctors. It can be hard to remember what it is like to be the patient but I recently had a good reminder.

A few weeks ago I had an exam with my physician. It was a pretty typical appointment.

I arrived about 30 minutes early. And then I waited for 45 minutes after my appointment for the doctor to come in. I was just coming off a 24 hour shift and anxious to sleep. I tried to read an ICU book or sleep, but I couldn't seem to do either well at the opposite time-- I couldn't sleep when trying to sleep and couldn't stay awake when trying to read.

I found myself nervously waiting for the doctor. A little annoyed when I had to give my name/birthday multiple times. (Really annoyed when they said I shrunk an inch.) Feeling like a wimp when they had to take my blood pressure more than once (those cuffs get so tight, don't they?). Wondering if there was anything extra I should ask him when he came in, hoping he understood where I was coming from, and hoping he wouldn't think I was dumb if I had any silly questions (if I could even remember them).

Luckily, I narrowly escaped the pap smear. Yay! But then found out I needed a shot.

Great. I remember what it is like to have nervous patients. I wanted to say, "A shot! I don't know what it is, but there is something about shots in my arm that always get me." or "You nurses really just like hurting people," just like my patient's say to me (almost) every day. But instead I said, "Okay!" putting on my bravest face. And just like it is for most of patients, it wasn't as bad as I expected (but hurt really bad afterward -- but unlike many of my patients, I didn't call to let them know in the middle of the night).

And after about 15 minutes I left. Luckily for me, I didn't have to worry about how I would pay for the bill which I know is a concern for a large percentage of my patients.

I think it is good to experience the patient side every once and awhile, even for a simple appointment like mine. I think it is interesting how easy it is for me to switch to the patient role. I also feel nervous and a little intimidated, frustrated with scheduling delays, anxious about pain and hope to remember to ask all of my questions. It reminds me that my patients feel this and probably more (Dentists and certainly Oral Surgeons do not have the best reputation for being cuddly and warm--we usually do have to hurt you to do our job, at least enough to give a shot).

Too bad patient's can't see our side of things.

When your doctor is running behind it can be very frustrating. It is also frustrating and stressful for your doc to be behind schedule. She feels the pressure to give each patient adequate time but also feels bad to keep others waiting. Other patient's also often show up late (it is not unusual for us to have patients show up 45 minutes late for a 15-30 minute appointment) or come with an emergency that needs to be addressed somehow in the already full schedule. She probably feels torn about helping them and getting further behind. Hopefully you can remember that this means your doc will try to spend as much time with you as you need, understanding that she does have a schedule to keep and may not be able to talk about everything you'd like to talk about socially.

It is important to remember that a lot of medical procedures hurt. I think sometimes when we think of the miracles of modern medicine we forget simple things like surgery hurts! And sometimes you need a shot or to have blood drawn, etc. It sounds silly but many patient's forget this and even become angry when they have pain after a procedure or because they need a shot to receive local anesthesia. If you understand that this is normal you will have a better experience and can hopefully realize your health care provider is truly trying to help you, even if it does hurt.

Your doctor should be happy to answer questions. It can be a bit overwhelming to see a patient with a large list of questions and concerns but she should generally be happy to answer questions to help you take a better and more active role in your health. Most of medicine requires effort from the patient as well as the doctor and understanding your own body is an important part of that effort.

Just a few thoughts. What frustrations do you have as a patient?


Susan said...

Shots, drawing blood, pain after surgery are all ok for me.

The only time I really feel frustrated is when they make me feel stupid for asking a question when my gut is telling me it is a valid question. They dismiss it and leave me feeling stupid for asking, then as time plays out, I find out I was right after all.

Even if they don't intially agree, at least humor me and explain why they think I am wrong. Educate me instead of immediately thinking in their mind how stupid I am. In the end, it only makes them look bad when it turns out my intuition was right after all.

Camber said...

Good points! The times I've had to be a patient myself, or watch Isaac be a patient, have been really eye-opening and good reminders of what it's like on the other side. The thing that surprises me is that when I'm hurting, I can usually (not always) be a good sport or tell myself to suck it up. But when it's a family member, I freak out. And become irrational. Even though I hate that with patients' families. I try to remember that when working with the needy, emotional, irrational family members. It happens to the best of us.