Traffic backed up on the interstate as I was trying to get to my doctor’s appointment. Being late checking in (they wanted me there 15 minutes early for CYA paperwork which they never seemed to read) meant that I would be met with the cold, impatient sneer of the clerk at the front. In all reality, it was the office manager who controlled the place, all of it. From the doctor’s time to the check-ins of all the patients, from lunchtimes of the staff members to the industrial toilet paper roll, she had her hand on efficiency and saving money. This clerk was merely a cog in the wheel, and this clerk’s only power, as it were, was making everyone feel like they were objects to be processed.
Fortunately, I was on time, early in fact, just to be safe. She checked me in, took my insurance card, and handed me a clipboard with the CYA paperwork on it. At no time did she look me in the eye, or demonstrate any regard for me. I, too, was a cog in the wheel, one more item to be processed.
The waiting room was veneered in Formica, designed to look like cherry wood. Women’s magazines were stacked in some places, strewn in others. Picture books and board books were corralled in a corner, with toys and such. The buzz of the parchment-covered florescent lights competed with the Muzak, featuring the Best of Chicago.
A medical staff member, wearing maroon scrubs opened the door and called me by my first name only. She looked at me, and told me to step on the scale, as she pulled the blood pressure cuff from the holding basket on the wall. Three clunks (I long for the days when I may only need two) and the tapping of the top sliding weight until the arm became level preceded the announcement of my weight in pounds, loudly (at least to me. Anything above a whisper on that info is loud). I sat down in the adjoining chair after the pronouncement, and she brandished me with the blood pressure cuff and inflated it until I couldn’t feel my thumb.
After acquiring my blood pressure measurement, pulse and temperature, she handed me a cup, and told me to go pee in it, put it on the shelf behind the metal door, and then report to Room 4. I obliged.
She met me in Room 4, and handed me a sheet to use to cover myself as I was told to remove the lower half of my clothing. Moments later, after I complied, the doctor walked in with Maroon Scrub Medical person. He scanned my chart on his laptop, typed some notes, asked about symptoms, scoped areas beneath the sheet, and gave his pronouncement. He was sure, and he made sure that I was given information, and brushed off questions as pesky annoyances that dared to question his imminence. His tone and mannerisms inferred that he knew Everything, and I should just be grateful to be in his presence. In less than 7 minutes, I had been poked, prodded, squeezed, stretched, groped and diagnosed. They left. I got dressed and took my highly encoded paper to the front desk where the clerk sat to check out, but not before I snapped a picture of it to determine what the numbers meant. It turns out that I was given a diagnosis of obesity, on top of why I was there in the first place.
I don’t think that I have an unrealistic expectation to be treated as a human being, with needs, wants, thoughts, ideas, and other intangibles which make me more than a meatsuit.
Sadly, this happens hundreds of thousands of times every day in the US, and likely more places than this. I’ve actually heard in clinics, agencies, and other healthcare facilities saying statements like, “how many more do we have to knock out today?” and “the BPD case on 4 West is back again” and “the doctor needs to spend less time with those people as he is making the waiting room back up.”
These folks seem to have lost the most critical healing component of all: showing genuine care and concern, and being courageous enough to withstand questioning and being willing to say, “I don’t know.” Sharing the concern of one who is questioning or hurting is experienced as healing to the patients with whom I’ve spoken. For myself, if I get a sense that you actually have genuine concern about what I’m going through, and you are willing to encourage and implement some of my ideas for healing myself, I am much more willing to implement your ideas for healing me as well. This is one way to prevent causing additional trauma and illness, and maybe keep your waiting room from backing up.