A Patient Perspective

By Steven B. Orkin


The room is cold. They're always cold. I get it but it still feels a little dehumanizing. And the waiting. I hate the waiting. I sat in the lobby for almost an hour listening to the TV drone on about the day's mayhem, celebrity gossip, recipes. Thank God I brought a book or I'd probably shoot myself. Hopefully, I'm not sitting next to anyone with anything communicable.

They called my name and the illusion of activity occured as I was transferred to an exam room. Where I waited some more. Do they understand that none of us wants to be here?

My eyes wander across the anatomical poster-charts and boldface declarations about insurance this and insurance that. This room is devoid of personality. It could be located in any city in any state. I could be in New York, Montana, Florida, Texas, Michigan. It's only 9:00 in the morning and half a dozen people have already sat in this spot before me. Another two or three dozen will sit here after me by the time they close.

Am I just another widget on the Treat & Street assembly line? Will the person who sees me remember me ten minutes after I walk out the door? The days of the kindly country doctor making house-calls were before my time but as a kid, I remember going to my doctor's office, seeing his or her name on the door and knowing that's who I was going to see. Now, it's a rotating team of clean-cut, white-coated physicians and PA's. So much harder to cultivate rapport.

I know it's not their fault. They're well-trained; they're following their calling to help people. There are limitations inherent in the structure of the system. Don't get me started.

An assistant enters. Courteous. Professional. "What brings you here today?" Takes temp. Takes blood pressure. "Medications?" "Allergies?" "The doctor will see you in a few minutes." Gone. More waiting.

And at last, the doctor. Confident. Capable. Cordial. Listens with what appears to be attentive compassion. I want to believe it is. But in the back of my head, a skeptic asks, "Is it really? Or is it just a well-practiced façade?" For all I know, the person in the white coat is thinking about their hot date last night or what they need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home.

What do they think of me? Will they joke about me with their coworkers when I leave? Barring an exotic tropical illness or physiological anomaly, they've heard my story hundreds of times. It's nothing new.

But it's new to me. I don't have their background. I don't know if what I have is nothing or something. I wonder if they understand that? I wonder if they fully comprehend the magnitude of the fact that they could be holding my life in their hands, that if they're just phoning it in this morning, they might miss something that could later end up killing me.

I'm no hypochondriac but I know how fragile life is. I know how tenuous our grip on good health can be, how one thing going wrong, even a seemingly innocuous thing, can have profound ramifications, how it can create a cascade of other things going wrong, ending in catastrophe. I've seen it happen more than once.

I hope they realize that. I hope they realize how sacred their mission is. I hope they realize that every patient deserves their best, whether they're the first patient of the day or the last, whether they have a common cold or brain cancer.

I tell my tale. And pray.




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