Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Communication

One of the reasons I dread doctors' appointments is the conversations that must take place in order to receive the appropriate kind of care.

First of all, there's the compulsory "How are you?" when the doctor enters. According to rules of etiquette I should say "Fine, thanks"...but aren't I supposed to be on my deathbed, since I begged to get this appointment?

The conversation with the doctor goes against instinct because at all other times of life you are trying so hard NOT to complain, and here if you have any hope of success, you must describe all your symptoms in detail.

Even for someone who has no problem complaining, there's the intimacy aspect. I don't know this person. No matter how friendly, I have no desire to share with him/her the personal details of my life! I don't want to show vulnerability to this stranger.

I am pondering this after receiving the report of a specialist I visited a few weeks ago. I was personally a bit disappointed at how it sounded on paper. First of all, he reported my pain as "mild," yet I recall marking it at least "moderate," and I don't recall him asking me to rate it verbally.

I remember, after describing the pain, that he said, "So it doesn't affect your everyday life?" and I was stunned that he had come to that conclusion, as if he hadn't heard what I had just said. Maybe I should have squeezed out a few tears, or lain on the floor moaning?

I ran into a similar problem when I met with the physical therapist the first time. I reported that I was experiencing pain, but my facial expression was very guarded. He led me through some painful movements without asking if it was okay, and I finally broke down and he began to understand the depth of the problem.

After that, we worked together to communicate and come up with a solution. But there were still times when he would be twisting or pressing and I just blocked out the pain. Then he asked if it hurt and I said yes and he said, "You're supposed to tell me!" I had to try to be more expressive.

But when you have only one shot with a specialist, who is a stranger, it feels completely unproductive.

However, I realize that pain is relative. There were plenty of people in the waiting room in very bad shape. Granted, they were elderly. But I was able to step back from my own situation a little bit to see that I didn't have the worst problem in the world.

The doctor included some interesting notes about my manner.

"Displays subdued mood during encounter." We laughed at that; I get it from my dad. I didn't understand what this meant and why on earth I would be energetic and cheerful upon visiting a doctor!

The next line said, "Affect: depressed and flat." Now that was upsetting. If I had known he was writing that, I would have responded, "How would you feel if you described your chronic pain to your doctor and he didn't think it affected your everyday life?"

I know this doctor has a good reputation, and if there were something serious, he probably would have found it. But somehow I didn't even care about the clinical aspects of the meeting. It was the emotional aspects that stayed with me. It's like going to the dentist and enduring the procedure, then crying over them telling me I don't do a good brushing job.

Again, I have to remember about perspective. My problems aren't bigger than anyone else's. It's the same thing with the economy. Who cares about downsizing your home when other people are starving?

But this isn't God's message to us. He may humble us by showing what we have to be thankful for, but He sees all of our little cares and worries, and He promises to protect us. We don't have to deal with problems by telling ourselves (and each other,) "that's not such a difficult problem, you shouldn't worry about it." We deal with problems by trusting God, and by encouraging others to trust Him.