The title of one of my previous blogs in and of itself posed an important question: “What Is A Good Patient?” How one defines a “good patient” varies, as does their reason for wanting to be one. During my tenure as a Medical Humanist at Southwestern Vermont’s Regional Cancer Center I witnessed the difficult task doctors faced in reconciling those who became patients—to their illness.
Dr. Judy Raffone, who had become a patient, shared the lived experience of illness and its impact both personally and professionally. And, in so doing, humanized the doctors’ experience. With Dr. Raffone’s permission, I am sharing what is a valuable teaching moment – a gift.
“In February, I had to take on a new role: patient. I have been a physician for over 30 years. I work daily at open communication, active listening trying to meet the patient/family where they are, try to have discussions that are important to their health. I strive to do that to best meet their learning style—verbal, written, pictures on line material, call backs from my nurses or me to review their understanding and questions that have come up. Do we get it right every time, absolutely not, we can only do our best? That being said, to be a good patient, you need to improve your active listening skills. On any given appointment, I know before hand how I am feeling—STRESSED, stressed, TIRED, tired, COMPLETELY AWFUL and last week WHINEY. I let my nurse know up front where I am emotionally that day as it effects what I communicate, what I hear, what I retain. If I am in any of the CAPITAL states, I always write down my questions, new medications, medications I stopped taking, what side effects have happened though the week and when (my treatments are weekly). Other times it’s a combination of memory (I’ve reviewed getting ready) or written. At the start of the support process I always had a support person with me –generally—my husband—paper and pen (I am faster than writing notes on my iPhone) so that I could take notes and have my questions readily available to ask. A patient (and their support players), a good physician, good nurse, and good ancillary staff, combined together are a great team if everyone takes a few precious minute to be open to find out who you are as a patient. You as a team need to understand your team is doing the best they can on any particular day recognizing that stress changes things. In the past 3-½ months I have consciously tried to self manage stress with a laugh a day, resting more (and my team will tell you I need reminders) on my treatment day many laughs. That helps me understand their message and ask appropriate questions so I don’t sabotage my treatment.”
“We need to raise our voices a little more, even as they say to us,
‘This is so uncharacteristic of you.’ Invisibility is not a natural state for anyone.”
After each of our SpeakSooner community education programs I would ask myself, “How did this program differ from the one before? And, what was the take away?” I often wonder if others ask themselves the same questions.
What brought this to mind was an e-mail I received from a hospice social worker who often attends our community programs.
“Variability is the law of life…no two bodies are alike, no two individuals react and behave alike
under the conditions which we know as disease.” – William Osler, MD
I often think about what the writer and patient Anatole Broyard said, “Stories are the antibodies against illness.”
It’s hard enough that a diagnosis comes along to threaten our lives—does it also have to threaten our life stories? (more…)
“When I think of people in waiting rooms, including myself, I picture us rifling restlessly through battered magazines,” writes Rachel Hadas, Guest Editor of “The Waiting Room Reader II: Words to Keep You Company”.
Tacked to my bulletin board within my line of sight are the words of Dr. William Osler,a 19th century physician who pioneered taking medical students out of the classroom to learn at the bedside. Dr. Osler understood that medicine was more than science. He encouraged the students to:
“Not every patient can be saved, but his illness may be eased by the way the doctor responds.”
Anatole Broyard, Intoxicated By My Illness
I received an e-mail from a colleague. The subject line read: “Wow look what they’ve discovered!” Attached was a link to the New York Times WELL column “Letting Patients Tell Their Stories.” My eyes drop down to the image of a doctor with his stethoscope in hand (more…)
As we ready ourselves for the first in our 2016 SpeakSooner community education series I ask myself how does one decide whether or not to attend a play, movie, or, in this instance, a community program. Is it the subject matter, panel of experts, a friend’s invite, a colleague’s suggestion or the reviews?
It ‘Tis the Season’…One of the gifts I received from a friend was a copy of The Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed. I’ve been known to ignore the rules of punctuation. My friend had asked me about my “penchant for the ellipses.” The book defines the ellipsis’ function as “indicating omitted words.”
“When a doctor tells you ‘You’re sick,’ he’s not just diagnosing you; he is initiating a new chapter in the story of your life…”