Surviving Hospitalisation: Befriend Your Doctor (7 of 7)

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Ameena Meer is a writer and single mother of three girls living in New York City, who runs her own advertising agency.  As a person who went through traditional cancer treatments for several months and was also hospitalized for other illnesses in the past, she thought it would be useful to create a guide to navigating the medical system when you’re stuck inside. This is an excerpt from her blog www.amazonsofnyc.blogspot.com 

This is one tip that may not practically affect the tone of your stay, but it will ease your mind and help you feel like you are part of the process.

Making friends with the Doctors

ameena meer overcome choriocarcinomaAs my friend Sancha Mandy reminded me, they come in packs. The worst time (for me) was the morning rounds. Because they would be fresh and dressed and joking and chatting amongst themselves as they came in.

Then you feel like a feeble, unwashed, beat-up vagrant who hasn’t slept all night (because they wake you up every two or three hours to check your vitals) and – as I explained about the sleeves, if you have an I.V., you’re either dressed like a baby in those unflattering blue-and-white flower printed gowns or you’ve been sleeping in your clothes for a couple of days. It doesn’t help that the doctors all talk about you in the third-person.

My strategy

1. The morning prep

Here’s what worked for me. I woke up (like I was ever really asleep!) an hour or two before their rounds. I’d persuade the nurse to unhook my IV and I’d attempt a shower or sponge bath in the bathroom. I’d change to a freshly-laundered baby gown. Then I’d brush my hair and teeth, put on mascara and blush and attempt to look as civilized as possible. I put my hair (while I still had some) in a ponytail. When I got back to bed, I’d get out my laptop and run through all the questions I’d had.

2. Address the doctors by their names

Doctor writing a report
Don’t let your doctor be nameless. Get to know her!

The doctors would come in by then. Usually it’s the big honcho, the head of the department, surrounded by fawning student-interns and a couple of nurses. The main doctor prods and pokes you in embarrassing ways and the young doctors-in-training all ask if they can, too, just to further humiliate you.

In order to preserve some dignity, I suggest you take the time to learn as many of their names as you can. Then have a bright conversation with them about your condition. Take back the situation, as best as you can. They become less invasive and treat you more as a person, albeit a bald, skinny one.

3. Ask your doctor important questions

Remember, this is about you as a human being, not you as a science project. This is the key moment to ask your doctor every single question you have about your treatment. Err on the side of asking too many questions, rather than too few. She/he will do her absolute best to answer you because she is also training all these young doctors and she wants to show good her bedside manner to them. If there is something you don’t like or that is not working, this is the time to say so … and be persistent.

4. Do your research before-hand

I’d say make sure you’ve done your research first and keep your questions simple and pointed, so the doctors have to answer specifically, rather than in vague generalizations. If you start to learn some medical jargon, i.e. “I feel pressure in the lower left quadrant of my abdomen,” so much the better. They treat you even more respectfully.

If you find something that makes you question a specific part of your treatment, print it out (but not massive texts with pages and pages) and give it to your doctor. Most doctors work hard and lead somewhat harried lives. They can’t always keep up with the latest information.

I’ve spoken to doctors who say the internet has done a big disservice to patients because “they all think they are experts.” I suppose you could diagnose yourself with all kinds of stuff and freak yourself out no end if you were that kind of worried, hypochondriac-type person.

5. Listen to your body

When I was in high school, one of my best friends (who used to keep a personal stash of antibiotics in his cupboard) had a father who was a doctor. He used to joke, “The first thing a doctor always says? Never self-medicate.”  It is certainly true, that when you’re undergoing cancer treatments, you shouldn’t be taking antibiotics and OTC drugs without proper supervision.

However, what doctors sometimes forget is that you ARE an expert in one thing: your own body. You are the only one who knows how you feel. Your intuition – if you take the time to listen to it – will probably tell you what’s really wrong.

Whatever happens in the hospital, remember that this particular movie is all about YOU. Be kind to others but don’t forget one thing: Treat yourself like the hero that you are.

Reflection

  • If your doctor isn’t sharing as much information as you would like, how will you get yourself heard and needs met?
  • How do you prepare for a meeting with your doctor: doing some research and drawing up a list of 3-5 important questions?
  • While the doctors do their job, what else can you do and how can you participate actively  for a smoother recovery?

More from this series

Title About the article
Part 1 As a person who went through traditional cancer treatments for several months and was also hospitalized for other illnesses in the past, Ameena Meer thought it would be useful to create a guide to navigating the medical system when you’re stuck inside.
Part 2 I am not a doctor, but I want to offer people the basic stuff I’ve learned through years of experience as a successful patient.
Part 3 Unless you are a wealthy, high-profile celebrity, you will not get special attention at a factory. Which is pretty much what a hospital is.
Part 4 The idea is to turn your big, scary hospital into a small, loving place. You want to make it a place where they will really look after you. You can even become a cheer-leader for everyone else along the way.
Part 5 It’s still a hideous proposition if you must stay in hospital, but there are ways you can make it more bearable, maybe even pleasant. Sometimes it’s as easy as a list of things that you might bring, or have friends or relatives bring, that makes it feel more at-home.
Part 6 All this stuff may seem absurdly expensive given your circumstances, but I suggest you invest in it anyway. It makes you feel chic and aristocratic and helps you continue to behave in a dignified fashion. And in the end, it will be the way you treat the people who help you that will make all the difference.
Part 7 This is one tip that may not practically affect the tone of your stay, but it will ease your mind and help you feel like you are part of the process

 

 

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