Friday, April 3, 2009

Listen Up, Doc! - Tip #5

Another tip for those visits to the doctor, taken from my book, Despite Lupus, due out this Spring. Tip #5 - "Doctors are Real People, too. "
Feel free to check out the first few Listen Up, Doc! posts by clicking here: #1, #2, #3, and #4.

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Doctors are Real People, too.


Take a moment to consider how many different physicians you’ve seen since you were diagnosed with Lupus. Each has their own individual style and manner, don’t they? I’ve personally seen more than a dozen specialists since Lupus came into my life, each of whom have poked, prodded, and prescribed a little differently than the last. No two doctors are alike, and yet our hope (and maybe even expectation) is the same each time we visit: cure me and do it now. We turn to our medical team with eagerness and expectancy because we believe they can and will provide the solutions we need. It’s comforting to put such faith in the profession as a whole, but it’s important that we remember the individuality of each doctor. Consider how their distinctiveness might mesh with your own uniqueness as a patient. You have a subconscious expectation that the two will work in harmony. When they don’t, it can be off-putting and a little disheartening.

Instead of becoming discouraged, acknowledge that your relationship may need a little finessing in order to be successful. Managing people takes a great deal of patience, understanding, and skill, and that’s how you should approach the relationship with your medical professionals. Not in a controlling, autocratic manner, but with a level of tolerance and perceptiveness that will allow you to juggle personalities, behaviors, and agendas with proven effectiveness. Perhaps you’re concerned that by accepting other people’s personality quirks, you’ll be lowering your expectations for effective health care. That’s not the case at all. Acknowledging that people’s temperaments and personalities don’t always match allows you to stop blaming yourself (or your health care provider) for the incompatibility or futility you experience from your appointments. Having established that no one in particular is at fault, you can begin to objectively evaluate your care in order to ultimately improve it.


Just like you and me, your doctor is only human. He has strengths and weaknesses, assets and imperfections. He’s going to have good days and bad days, and because you see him as frequently as you do, you’re bound to catch him on one of each. Your doctor should conduct himself with the utmost professionalism (even on his worst day). But it’s unrealistic to expect him to overhaul his behavior simply to meet your own personal expectations. You may want more small talk and less business, a shoulder to cry on instead of a composed, unemotional handshake, or more supportive encouragement and less brutal honesty. Just because that’s what you want doesn’t mean your doctor is responsible for giving it to you. In fact, he may be incapable of relating to you in that way. If that is the case, you may need to learn to accept your doctor for his expertise and his failings, or switch doctors.

A friend of mine, Marjorie, was in the middle of an appointment when she discovered just what kind of boundaries her beloved, accomplished, competent doctor had. During the course of this particular appointment, her doctor delivered some very bad news, and Marjorie instantly broke down in tears, crying hysterically. Her doctor was visually uncomfortable during the outburst, and was almost rendered speechless. She didn’t reach out to console or comfort Marjorie, as if she was incapable of behaving normally in the presence of a sobbing, panicked patient. It was a side of her doctor that Marjorie had never seen before, and she was shocked. Once Marjorie calmed down and was relatively composed, the doctor resumed her formidable personality, communicating intelligently and astutely, with no sign of the stunted, inhibited traits she had just exhibited moments earlier. Marjorie concluded that while she certainly could have used some words of consolation during her outburst, her doctor was far too valuable to let this small, relatively workable issue get in the way of a successful relationship.

I, too, have learned to adjust to Dr. R’s occasional tendency to be insensitive and abrupt. I experience (and appreciate) his kind and caring traits much more often than his terse disposition. But some days, his crisp, undemonstrative nature is just the thing I need to keep my emotions in check. I remember a particular instance when, just 6 short months after I’d gotten married, Dr. R needed to make it clear that I avoid becoming pregnant for the benefit of my own personal well-being. As a newlywed, it was one of the most devastating things I’d ever been told. Of course, I wasn’t actively trying to get pregnant, nor was I planning on starting anytime soon. But the fact that Lupus was restricting me at all caused me to start tearing up. Thankfully, Dr. R didn’t make the situation into a big emotional production. He gently explained what the dangers were if I did become pregnant, letting me collect myself as he kept me focused on the facts. Though his face and tone of voice conveyed his consolation, it was his reserved nature that kept my tears at bay that day, preventing an unnecessary and needlessly traumatic break down.

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