The Good Patient (Part 1 of 2)

It’s been nice to have a break from normal life for a few weeks during the holidays. No school. No medical appointments. Perfect, right?

Except for the fact that I spent most of my break in bed with a giant flare.

Total bummer.

Now, with the New Year upon us already, life is reverting back to its old, crazy self – my so-called “normal”. Three medical appointments this week, but luckily no tests. Also, need to get my mind ready to start back at school next week, finish all of my To-Do projects, and organize my medical management for the New Year, which I, of course, waited until my break to do. Needless-to-say, most of it didn’t get done.

Still, despite being super sick for weeks, I was able to finish one thing from my list that I promised myself I would do over break — finish a book from my personal reading list. Thankfully, this I was able to do from the comfort of my bed.

In all fairness, though, I really only had half of the book left to read since I had started it over the summer. Just haven’t had the time or the mind to finish it — until recently. I carefully opened the book to the page that I marked many moons ago,  which opened up to Chapter 7 in  When You’re Sick and Don’t Know Why (1991). Such a Fitting title, right?

I guess you can imagine why I wanted to read this. Before I even made it halfway down the page, the book already had  me thinking. I thought that maybe I shouldn’t finish this book after all (or at least not during my vacation from being a professional patient), but continued reading anyway.

The first line in the chapter read:

Are you a good patient?

Of course I am, I thought, perhaps too naively.

At least, I think I’m a pretty good patient anyways.

  1. I educate myself  as much as possible about my health conditions.
  2. I’m always on time for appointments — if not early.
  3. I ask a ton of questions.
  4. I am polite and patient, even when I am annoyed or frustrated.
  5. I am an active participant in my healthcare decisions – at least, I think.

That’s pretty good if I do say so myself.  But do my doctor’s appreciate these qualities in me? Maybe, maybe not. Or at least not all of them do anyway.

I’m quickly reminded about all the times I had been let down by my doctors: told that my symptoms were all in my head; that it was just anxiety or depression — even dehydration. Sometimes I wonder who actually takes me seriously.

Perhaps they treated me this way because of the type of patient I was being? 

The more I thought about it, the more I began to question myself. 

Am I really a good patient or do I just think that I am? 

It’s too hard to tell. I have enough trouble figuring out what each doctor is thinking, especially when they say one thing and write something different in my charts. That, alone, is bad enough. And, just like anything else, I assume each doctor has their own preferences and ideas about “the perfect patient”. I’m sure some doctors appreciate my willingness and eagerness I put into my healthcare — some have even complimented me on my level of organization on my medical records. However, I bet most do not because of the fact that I am somewhat “needy” as a chronic illness patient and being needy requires a lot more “work” than the average patient.

I was interested in what more the authors of the book had to say about this topic. Mainly, what EXACTLY defines whether a patient is good or not? And what makes one type of patient better than another?

The stereotype that comes to mind is someone who doesn’t
complain a lot, follows the doctor’s orders to the letter, and doesn’t ask too many questions. He or she is submissive and
conforms to the system.

(Hanner, Witek, & Clift, 1991, p. 95)

Of course, silly me. That would be the obvious answer, wouldn’t it? At least from a doctor’s perspective anyway.

Basically —Compliant— in all aspects of the word.

Definition of compliant in English: adjective

1. Inclined to agree with others or obey rules, especially to an excessive degree; acquiescent

1.1 Meeting or in accordance with rules or standards.

2. Physics & MedicineHaving the property of compliance.

(“Compliant”, 1989)
Let’s see here:
  1. I often am inclined to be agreeable with my doctors.
  2. I always follow the rules.
  3. I am compliant with my medications and recommended treatment plans.
  4. I follow the system, even it I don’t agree with it.
    • Why? Because I have no choice — play the game or you get nowhere in healthcare. That’s just the way it is.
  5. I don’t show anger or frustration to anyone in the healthcare profession, even if I am.

However:

  1. I do ASK questions and state my concerns over recommended medications or treatment plans and why they are necessary.
  2. I will stay on top of you to do your job, especially if things aren’t getting done.
  3. I bring others with me to appointments who can help me with questions or remember what the doctor said.
  4. I come bearing hundreds of pages of medical notes and lab results.
    • I must clarify: If I don’t bring them, then I am asked about them or you want a copy. It’s just easier to have it on hand.
  5. I more than likely have done more research on my diagnoses than you ever learned about it in medical school or even in practice, and I will correct you if something you say is inaccurate.
    • I will also quote recent statistics taken from peer-reviewed journals. I am THAT good. Also, don’t be surprised if I hand you a copy of a research article to reference.

Now I really wasn’t so sure about myself.

The authors then go on by saying:

In fact, the word patient means to endure suffering without complaining.

(Hanner, Witek, & Clift, 1991, p. 95)

But I am so tired of being patient

and of being a patient…

How long am I supposed to suffer? 

Haven’t I suffered enough in my own body?

Many doctor’s prefer patients who don’t make waves – simply because they require less time.

(Hanner, Witek, & Clift, 1991, p. 95)

I understand not making waves, but what about small ripples?

Modern clinics and hospitals focus on efficiency. The less time spent with each patient, the more patients processed in a day. The doctor takes charge by telling the patient what to do rather than offering alternatives.

(Hanner, Witek, & Clift, 1991, p. 95)

Okay, so now we’re getting to the real answer here.

Trust me — I get it. Our healthcare system is broken and is pushing doctors more and more each day. I can only imagine how hard doctors work each and every day, not to mention the pressures and burdens they must feel at times. In one of my posts from earlier last year, I Know the Shame in Your Defeat, I even wrote:

Having come from veterinary medicine and working with many doctors over the years (just not of the human kind), I do know how stressful and frustrating your job is on a day-to-day basis. That is the reason I’ve given so much slack to those working in the healthcare industry, especially my doctors. It’s not an easy job, both mentally and physically. But I also can’t accept the care I’ve been given either. My animals should not get BETTER care than me, I’m sorry.

There’s no excuse. I agree there needs to be a change in how things are done, but it isn’t MY fault. Nor is it any other patient’s. Don’t take it out on us or get frustrated with us for expected a certain level of care, despite your time limitations.

Patients are gradually becoming more aggressive, demanding involvement in decisions. Some doctors are beginning to realize that keeping patients in the dark is not in the best interest of either party.

When patients share responsibility for decisions, they are less likely to blame the medical profession when results are not what they hoped for. When patients are aware of details concerning tests and records, they are more likely to catch mistakes that have been overlooked.

(Hanner, Witek, & Clift, 1991, p. 95)

This just makes obvious sense — at least, to me.

I know that I am responsible for my health and healthcare management. I also know that most doctors don’t have time to do it for me. It goes without saying; if not me, who? 

If I don’t fit all the required qualities to be considered a “good patient”, am I a bad patient then? 

And what qualities labels as a patient as bad?

Stay tuned for Part 2: The Bad Patient to find out


References:

Compliant. (1989). In Oxford English online dictionary (2nd ed.). Retrieved from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/compliant

Hanner, L., Witek, J.J., & Clift, R.B. (1991). When You’re Sick and Don’t Know Why. Minneapolis, MN: DCI Publishing.

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