Touch: The Journal of Healing



And Now a Few Words from Your Healthcare Providers

    by Sarah Bigham

When seeing a new healthcare provider for the first time I provide the requisite chronological reporting of surgical dates and diagnoses, list of current medications, copies of relevant test results, and whatever office-specific new patient paperwork is required, as I dutifully describe my medical history in whatever way is preferred.  I check the appropriate boxes and struggle to assign numerals to my sensation of pain in order to provide the soundbite information busy medical professionals need.  I have learned to compartmentalize and compact the myriad images and stories, feelings and fears I have about my varied health situations.  I try to consolidate all I need to say, but I’m often unsuccessful because of a deep-rooted need to connect through words with the person I am trusting to help and truly understand me.

I bring my wife to some of these appointments.  She is a scientist, a clear and direct communicator, someone who instinctively understands how to concisely convey data.  “You don’t need to bond with them, honey,” she counsels wisely, “you just need them to fix you.”  But to me, words are so important, and I create my own mental medical record from the expressions of my caregivers.

Crushing caseloads, never-ending paperwork, noncompliant patients, and consumers like me who present with an endless stream of words – I can only imagine the frustrations and time constraints of a medical provider.  Sitting in waiting rooms and bearing the pain and hoping for understanding – I know what it is like to yearn for words of comfort.

Dismissive remarks from medical providers have troubled me.

•In elementary school, while cradling my hand in the nurse’s office after recess, the fill-in health room attendant understandably found it implausible that a child could break a finger while playing kickball and muttered, “All you need is an icepack.”  There was surprise at school the next day when I arrived with my hand in a cast.

•In my 20s, a surgeon told me offhandedly during a bone marrow donation pre-op visit, “I wouldn’t do it.”  I did it anyway.  All I saw was my sister, my mother, my cousin, my wife needing a transplant, and me praying for a match.

•When my bones didn’t give up the marrow easily, a nurse said with a sigh, “You must be a slow healer.”  I required far beyond the initial estimate of punctures, leaving my hip to scream in pain for weeks.  Long after, her words made me hesitant to express how much something hurt, but as we all must learn, hiding the pain only makes it worse.  Years later the pain still speaks to me, but in a muted tone.  My hip and I now have an understanding, and a great craniosacral massage therapist.

•More recently a doctor suggested, “I could prescribe an antidepressant,” after a discussion about my fatigue.  I found a new doctor who diagnosed severe anemia.

Amusing statements have eased my medical journey when laughing seemed the only way to keep going.

•As if I was not sitting right there, an attending physician once noted, “Very impressive,” to an intern while examining what I learned was officially called a dorsocervical fat pad.  My mirth at their comments about my “buffalo hump” caused him to pause before apologizing for objectifying.

•“I’m gonna get my supervisor.”  You know you are infamous when you arrive at the infusion center and the boss is called before anybody even touches you.  I’m a notoriously hard stick, and my secretive veins have tried the patience of many who were determined to extract blood for testing and insert iron for healing.

But it is the words of compassion that write my true medical story, the one that really matters.

•“I have something here to cheer you up,” comforts a CNA with a lilting voice who witnesses my embarrassment and fear after numerous IV starts have failed, allowing me to smile through my tears.

•“I think I can help you,” remarks the kindly acupuncturist as she catalogs my symptoms and discusses ways she can complement the Western medicine I’m receiving.  I thank her for listening and giving me hope.

•“We need to get you some relief,” announces the clinic’s expert I have traveled so far to see, as she provides long-sought diagnoses and medications, clearly comprehending the depths of the pain I experience.  I sob on the exam table with gratitude.

•“That must be so awful,” sympathizes my primary care provider as she reviews records of the painful treatments I routinely endure for several coexisting conditions. “I feel so bad for you.”

•“I’m just so sorry I couldn’t help you,” declares the nurse practitioner earnestly, when I tell her I have found specialists who can treat me.  My eyes fill with tears, knowing she understands.

© 2016  Sarah Bigham

Sarah Bigham reads, teaches, and writes in Maryland where she lives with her kind chemist wife, three independent cats, an unwieldy herb garden, and several chronic pain conditions including interstitial cystitis.

Copyright © 2015

Touch: The Journal of Healing

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