Friday, August 27, 2010

Listen up

I am currently writing this from my bed, where I do a good deal of my writing. Unfortunately, this time I'm in my bed because I feel like somebody has stretched me on a taffy machine, kicked me in the gut, and stuffed a worm in my ear.

This is my fourth day going on feeling like crap. It started out with general muscle discomfort, which I'm used to. I have some muscular issues that flare up from time to time, and so I initially wrote it off as that. Then I started to get tired. As in, no energy to do anything tired. As in, if I didn't know better I would think I had mono tired. Hot and cold flashes accompanied this...for five minutes I was burning up and then I thought I was in the tundra. Then I started having stomach cramping and nausea. The muscle aches continued, along with an unrelenting headache on my right side--the same side where I have muscle pain in my neck and shoulder. The final straw was when I woke up from an unintended nap this evening with the imaginary worm in my ear. I hurt. And nothing was making anything better.

So I threw on my shoes and asked my husband if he'd take me to the urgent care. He agreed and fifteen minutes later, we were at the urgent care our family uses the most. Unfortunately, we had arrived twenty minutes before they closed, and the doctor wanted to send us to another urgent care that was open later--my guess is because he knew I'd need labs drawn. Practically in tears, I agreed, because I just wanted to see somebody. If you've ever been incredibly uncomfortable for days, then you know how it feels. At that point I was willing to do just about anything for some relief.

My husband took me to the other urgent care a couple miles away. After a short wait, I was taken to the back, weighed and measured (I still don't understand the necessity of this unless it's for medication) and put in a room. A very nice lady came and drew labs on me, explaining that they wanted to check for infection and make sure my electrolytes were fine, since I had been so nauseated. After that, I waited. I watched a doctor help three other patients, two of whom arrived after me. I tried to take a nap but my body hurt too much. Finally a doctor appeared and asked me what was going on. I explained my symptoms to her, and she explained my bloodwork was fine so I couldn't possibly be sick.

Now--if you are a doctor, or you know a doctor, this is a key point--if a patient is telling you they feel like shit, chances are they aren't lying to you. There is Something Going On. Whether you can identify it in a CBC panel, who knows? But most people don't make random trips to an urgent care center at eight p.m. on a Friday night so they can toss a hundred bucks in the trash can. Or because you, the doctor, are cute and adorable. In this case, the doctor wasn't even male, so she wasn't my type anyway.

She checked out my ears, one of which I was holding because of the pain, to tell me everything was fine. I explained again that everything most certainly was NOT fine...I am holding my face for a reason, and it isn't because I'm planning to be photographed. She admitted I could have some sort of infection in my inner ear that she could not see. Hmm...possibly???

Since everything else seemed to be a no-go, she insisted on testing other things, of which I won't name here, but trust me when I say it's nightmarish to me and all of it came back negative. She came in and announced everything was perfect, I was fine, and if anything, I might have a minor stomach virus. Then she gave me three medicines--one to help with stomach cramping, one to help with nausea (which apparently works in exactly 23 minutes--who knew) and another to deal with the potential ear infection. Nothing for muscular pain or discomfort, nothing to help me sleep or make it through the next several days until this bizarre thing goes away. I was so incredibly frustrated I was crying when I left. If nothing else spoke to that doctor, my tears should have been a clue.

And this is what they should have said: Hey lady, LISTEN TO ME. I'm your PATIENT. I didn't come here for fun. I came here for relief. I'm telling you I'm in pain, and more pain than you're giving me credit for. You have a responsibility to run tests and interpret results. But you also have a responsibility to ME, your PATIENT. You have a responsibility to listen to me. When I tell you I've been in constant pain for four days, that I can't get comfortable, that I can't eat, that my head hurts and my ear hurts and I'm coughing and feel like I've been hit by a MAC truck, that I'm doing downward dog to relieve the muscle pain throughout my body, you have a responsibility to do more than run a blood test. At the very least you have the responsibility to listen and to help me find out what is wrong...and if you don't know, to send me to someone who might.

I'm a teacher. Part of my job is listening to nineteen preschoolers about what's important to them. What is funny, what they want to do, what they're trying to do, what's not working. Another part of my job is to listen to their parents--about their worries, their hopes, their dreams. In my last job I also listened to college students--their goals, their successes, their problems. And we worked together to make those things happen successfully.

Perhaps it is this drive in me, this need to help people meet their goals, that causes my lack of patience with those in other professions such as this woman tonight. I cannot stand a doctor who doesn't listen to what I say as a patient. My last doctor, before I moved, was fantastic. His philosophy was that I knew my body, and he knew body processes. His job was to educate me so that we could make decisions together about what was best for my care. His approach was refreshing and very rare. I never felt like he didn't listen to me. I never felt like he glossed over things I felt were important. He set a high bar, and this urgent care doctor fell extremely short.

So all you people who work with other people out there, like I do--LISTEN UP. Part of your job is to LISTEN. Whether you work with a two-year old who's mad that he can't have the broom in dramatic play or you're talking to an adult who's come in with acute pain, you'll learn a hell of a lot more--and be a hell of a lot more effective--if you shut up and LISTEN. Put down your test results, your assessments, your holy grail to unlock what's going on, and LISTEN to the person in front of you. You might just be shocked by what you hear.

And maybe the person you're talking to might help you find the answer.

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