I spend a lot of time with doctors.
For more than a decade, I have written for physicians and count many as clients. In fact, earning the respect of my physician clients has been one of my greatest achievements as a writer.
And like any good lupus patient, I spend my free time in waiting rooms—a primo place for people watching that delights the writer in me.
It’s easy to recognize the regulars. They smile. They look relaxed. They knit, read, play video games, stare unapologetically and take notes (okay, maybe that’s just me). But newbies are far more fun to watch.
While I’m usually entertained by a freaking out newbie, a lady yesterday infuriated me. What began as some serious huffing and puffing ended with a fist pounding on the reception desk and followed by a…
“If I treated my clients this way, I’d blah, blah <explicative> blah…!”
She went on…
“Overpaid < explicative >, lazy, they’re the reason health care in America sucks…”
Her tirade ended with a resounding…
And to my relief, and that of my waiting room peeps, she exited the building.
I nearly flipped my lid. Why? It’s because the more I interact with doctors—as their consultant as well as their patient—the more my respect and admiration grows. And not because they help me pay my bills and make sure I’m not getting sicker. They are real people. People who must really care about other people, as the path between Mr./Ms. to Dr. ain’t easy. In fact, it’s crazy hard. As is the actual practice of medicine.
The Client Side
I’m not scientifically-minded. Through stubbornness and the patience of a few doctors and doctor-type interpreters, I can trust my ability to communicate on behalf of a physician—whether it’s for a sophisticated medical audience or for someone like me who was lucky to earn a B in high school biology.
The Patient Side
Lupus patients spend a lot of time being monitored. If you’re only seeing one doc per month, it’s worth a celebration. It’s easy to get frustrated by long waits, complicated care plans, minimal progress, and the cost—OH, the cost!
Yes, doctor’s make decent money. Relatively, so do I—and I spend a good part of my work day staring out a window. My student loan payments are reasonable. My personal assets are not at risk if I make a mistake. I can apologize for a typo and not fear legal retribution. And I’m willing to bet that my typo has never brought about physical harm to another person. I bill for my time, which can be calculated in about a minute. No coding, no being reimbursed—straight up: invoice emailed, payment to be received.
Yes, if time-wasting was an Olympic sport, the competition would take place in a health care provider’s waiting room. But what do we really have to complain about?
- While many of us were giving slamming beers “the ole’ college try,” our docs were locked in the library studying for their organic chem midterm.
- While we’re reading the latest John Grisham book, our doctors are reading the literature “suggested” by their supervising physician. Literature bearing such titles as Nodular Regenerative Hyperplasia, Portal Vein Thrombosis, and Avascular Hip Necrosis Due to Hyperhomocycsteinaemia. (I didn’t make that last word up!)
- When we sit down to catch up with The Real Housewives, our doctors are reviewing notes, signing off on labs, answering “call,” and obsessing over the right way to break difficult news to a patient.
- While we complain about an “unjust” health care system, our doctors are doing something about it by volunteering to see patients at community-based and free clinics.
- While we obsess over how the Affordable Care Act might affect us, our doctors are thankful for the millions of people who will now be insured, but wonder how it will affect their own practices, their communities and the state of our nation.
I’m not implying that our time is less valuable or that we’re not worthy of respect from health care providers. Or that doctors are the only people who work hard—we all do. I’m simply saying this: As patients, we want—and deserve—empathy from our physicians. The least we can do offer them the same respect.
So next time you’ve waited an hour, know this: your doc likely had a patient who needed far more than the allotted time. And because your physician truly cares about his or her patients, that patient was provided for. Next time, that patient needing extra time might be you.
It’s been me. And I’m grateful for the support.