Remember—actions speak louder than words, kindness counts
By Mary Calhoun
I had been terribly sick for three months before finally going to the doctor. It felt as though I had the flu and just couldn’t shake it. The doctor did the necessary tests and told me he thought I had lupus. Since one of his patients had just died from the disease, he wanted me to see another doctor; he could not have picked a better one.
The rheumatologist I saw a week later did a ton of lab work on me, but not before asking a boat load of questions and attentively recording every word. I noticed the concern in his voice and wondered if I should be worried. When I returned a week later, the doctor walked in with solutions to how we would kick the monster.
“We have access to a few medications right now. There is no cure, but we can treat the symptoms. We need to get yours under control,” he said.
“So I tested positive?” I asked.
“Honey, you shot off the charts!”
I don’t remember much of anything else from that visit, only walking to the counter with tears in my eyes. I had lost my brother to cancer three months before. I was working full time and taking care of a very ill father. I couldn’t been sick. The doctor did something amazing, however. He walked out of his exam room to the counter and wrapped his arm around my shoulder.
“Don’t worry. We’ll get through this together,” he said.
From that moment on, I knew God had sent me to one of the most compassionate and knowledgeable doctors. At every appointment, he went out of his way to listen to my symptoms and hear the pain in my body, not relying on blood tests alone. He was my doctor for eighteen years — when diagnosed, I was only expected to live ten. He went beyond the five minute visit typical of most doctors now. If a patient needed medication and couldn’t afford it, he researched programs offering the medication for free. No one went without help. If you were suffering with another illness, you didn’t leave his office without something to help ease the symptoms and a big hug for the road. He always said, “You know your body better than I do, so tell me what’s going on.” He cared enough not only to listen, but reinforced to me that I knew what I was talking about. The only reason he is not my doctor now is because I moved to another state. How I wish I could have packed him up and moved him with me!
Over the years I have been diagnosed with systemic lupus, hypothyroid, aortic thoracic aneurysm (4.7 cm), fibromyalgia, permanent nerve damage in both legs and feet, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, had a TIA, diverticulitis, lung infections, IBS constipation, kidney involvement, etc., etc., etc. My medication list is two pages long. Although I have slowed down to a crawl, I appreciate every moment of each day. I am thankful for days I can get out of bed and take a shower (a bonus!).
The first rheumatologist I saw in my new location did not make a good impression. While I tried to be polite and get a feel for him, I often left feeling as though I had to defend myself. He was rude, barely said ten words to me, did not examine me. He merely asked a few questions and typed in the answers on the computer. Afterwards he just listened to my heart. I found out later he only did that because he must do something in order for insurance to pay him. I was so shocked. He sent me for blood work and I went home. It took me two hours to get ready for that appointment. Unlike most people, I am unable to walk or move normally, so my pace is extremely slow. I bit my tongue, however, being a firm believer in second chances.
Since I never heard back concerning my blood tests, I asked at my next appointment. The doctor said that they were okay. Nothing more. Didn’t show me anything. I asked questions; he gave one word answers. I felt as though I had inconvenienced him. He sat at his computer recording answers again, and I crawled onto the table by myself (a difficult task for someone like me). He listened to my heart and walked out leaving me to crawl off the table by myself. I was stunned again, but had no one else to turn to for help. I gave this doctor one year and his conduct never improved. His solution was push pills and record on the computer. Not only did it make me feel like he just didn’t care, but I had knots in my stomach hours before I went in for the appointment. No one should feel that way. I would go home in tears.
When I was first diagnosed with a thoracic aortic aneurysm, the doctor requested a heart cath. As I lay on that cold table waiting to be taken to the operating room for the procedure, I was terrified. Two orderlies wheeled me down to the elevator. They talked over me. Instead of taking the opportunity to help calm my nerves, they ignored me as if I were just a mass to be delivered. They talked about rebuilding a car over the weekend. Neither looked at me or even spoke to me. After we exited the elevator, I sat up and said the following to them, “Just for the future, it would be more considerate and kind if you would treat the person on the table as a person, give a kind word, not talk about your weekend as if she wasn’t there.” They looked at me as if I had horns growing out of my ears, but I said my piece and hoped somewhere my words took root. They simply resumed their conversation as if I were not there.
I’m so thankful to have found a rheumatologist now who listens, cares, and searches for answers. She did something at our first appointment that touched me deeply. Before she examined my feet, she removed my socks and shoes. When she was finished, she put them back on for me. No one has ever done that for me. Her action humbled me to tears, and I knew I was in the right place.
Actions truly do speak louder than words. Remember that each patient that comes in your door is a person. He or she is someone’s loved one. That person is more than a name on a chart or numbers from a blood test. Respect them as you would want them to respect you. Look them in the eye when you speak. Listen. Don’t be afraid to offer a helping hand for someone getting onto an examination table and help them get off. If you don’t know what to do, be honest and tell the patient you don’t, but send them to someone who might. If a person comes in sick and helpless, just imagine how hard it is to leave with that same burden. Take time to get to know your patient as a person. Talk and listen. Listening is the most important part. Every one can tell when someone is not listening or is simply going through the motions and it hurts.
Speak a kind word before your patient leaves you. It may be the only kind word they hear that day or many days to come. When I am having a horrible flare, I can go a week without seeing another person. Many patients who see you are in the same situation. Use your both your words and your actions to heal. You already have the passion to be doctors. Please don’t lose the compassion.