Dear Colleagues in Health,
Perhaps that form of address sounds hokey, but if I’m going to take responsibility as the owner of this body, I have to consider you colleagues who have much more training in the field than I do. I’ve been a consumer of your services for the last 40-odd years, and I’ve developed a layperson’s expertise. Here are a few suggestions that would make all of your patients/ clients/ consumers much happier:
1. Do not be callous or arrogant.
Yes, you have the training and we patients do not. But if you’ve invested all that time, attention, and money, use your training wisely. Listen to your patients. Don’t always assume that you know more than we do; we’ve lived in these bodies for years, and if we’re aware, we know how they function. Don’t display attitude because you’ve been through medical (or acupuncture, or massage therapy) school and we haven’t. I once visited an “alternative” practitioner for an initial consultation, and he never shut up long enough to hear who I was and what I was looking for; needless to say, I never returned. If I want to be harangued, I can listen to Rush Limbaugh.
2. Take patients’ pain seriously.
Several years ago, I had a medical condition that caused excruciating pain. I had to go to the hospital emergency room twice; the medical professionals there were just that, professional. Their treatment was swift, kind, and considerate. They administered painkillers and sent me home only when it was clear that I was OK. B y contrast, my medical specialist had attitude to spare and by the end of my treatment, after two outpatient surgeries and the placement of a stent, he seemed to suspect that I was asking for another prescription for painkillers because I’d become addicted to them. I was able to get by on the remainder of my prescription, but I wanted to grab him by the lapels and shout, “Honey, I am not selling these pills on the streets of Northampton; I am taking them as directed because I’m in pain!”
3. Put yourself in our shoes.
If you think the horrid system that passes for good medical care in this country is a pain for you, imagine what it’s like to be on our side. Insurance corporations are deciding whether people live or die. Those of us who have more mundane medical problems have to deal with the closure of neighborhood hospitals, indifferent and/or overworked nurses in the remaining health care facilities, and a shortage of general practitioners and specialists in some parts of the country. I’ve lived in Northampton, Massachusetts for a little more than four years, and although I’ve remained with the same medical practice, I’ve had a nurse practitioner and three primary care physicians, one of whom I never met.
4. Remember that pity is not help.
Sympathy and empathy are great when needed; a liberal application can often help with needy clients/patients. However, I’ve had health care professionals who simpered, “Oh, poor Michele!” so often, they might as well have taped it and pressed “play” when needed. A lot of social workers who are lovely people are not necessarily good counselors.
5. Continue your training; do not expect your clients to educate you.
To add to the point above: if all you can say to a client is “poor you,” this could be an indication that you need to learn more about the client’s complaint, either through direct questioning or via more training. If a health care professional says to me, “I don’t understand,” I consider it my obligation to tell her clearly what I’m talking about. If she continues to utter this phrase, I consider it her responsibility to learn more about the topic at hand. We know that you’re busy, but if you have, for example, transgender clients or their loved ones, you need to obtain education about transgender folks and issues, or refer them to someone else who has that training and knowledge. It is not our responsibility to educate you; we are paying for services. People working in every field have to keep up with changes; in the health care world, it can be a life-or-death matter. A failure to learn more screams, “I don’t care.”
6. Do not kick the examining or massage table.
This may sound like a small thing, but it’s extremely jarring, especially when we’re in the middle of a treatment. If your office space is too small for you to move around the treatment table in a coordinated fashion, perhaps you need to rearrange the furniture, or find a larger office.