When I feel really miserable – like when someone I loved just died, or when my bike has been stolen for the third time in one week – I lay myself down on the floor and play the Benedictus from Mozart’s’ requiem. It’s my cure for any foul mood or deep grief. Music cures. And when failing to cure, at least it distracts the mind from what ails us. What ails me is diabetes. And I tend to listen to Mozart a lot after visits to the hospital.
Once, I had an internist who told me to drastically change my nightly insulin dose. I told him that I knew he was right but that I was afraid to do what he said, because I live alone and what if I passed out? So I contacted my diabetes nurse and together we found a solution. When the doctor heard of this, he roared: ‘ -I- AM THE DOCTOR HERE! THOSE NURSES AREN’T TO MEDDLE WITH MY DECISIONS!’ I went looking for a new internist -quite- soon after that. Being snubbed by doctors seems to be quite common. Everywhere.
A Serbian friend who got a sudden high fever felt even more miserable after she went to the doctor. Instead of examining her the doctor asked ‘Well, what do you normally take when you have a flu?’ and sent her home.
And then there’s this friend who worked for the UN in Jordan, and who had this unbearable vaginal itch and went to the doctor. The doctor gave her a cream. It didn’t work. She went back. The doctor gave her more cream. It didn’t work. She went back again and asked if he wouldn’t examine her, for a change? He did, but he clearly felt embarrassed. Later my friend was told male doctors aren’t really supposed to examine women in Jordan. Which of course the doctor could have told her the first time and saved himself the embarrassment and my friend a lot of time and itching.
But the worst happened to a Swedish friend. He had Colitis Ulcerosa, a nasty bowel disease which rather increases your chances to get bowel cancer. When he visited the ER with a gruesome pain in his leg, he was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis, got pills, and went home. This happened three more times. Hospital, check, yes, thrombosis, bye bye. When a couple of weeks later he got severe respiration problems, he was rushed to hospital. Lung embolism. The blood clot had decided to take a trip to the chest area. He very nearly died. Did all alarm bells go off? No. He had to tell the doctors that this could be a sign of liver tumors to point them in the right direction. Later, it appeared he had bowel cancer with metastases to the liver and the lymph nodes. Kind of a death warrant with rather short notice, that. He got medication which, it seemed, he shouldn’t have gotten at all in his condition. He was operated, half of his guts were taken away, and he woke up, because someone had forgotten to give him painkillers, and stayed without sufficient painkillers for 24 hours before it was fixed. He was rather cross about the whole thing (Swedes are never mad. They are mildly unamused at most) and decided to send official complaints to all organizations who deal with disgruntled patients who fail to die. Somehow, no doctor was fired. No one admitted they had misread, mistreated or miscommunicated. No one said sorry. My friend asked me to give you this link about…shhhh…doctors actually making mistakes…but don’t tell anyone. They’d rather you didn’t know.
Of course, sometimes things go wrong because patients suffer from selective hearing. They only get half of what the doctor said. And of course patients can be ignorant, stupid, or downright obnoxious, visiting the ER on a Saturday night, with a common cold they had since Tuesday. Or repeatedly visiting their GP wondering why their pills don’t work, when they just don’t follow the instructions on the package. That must be frustrating. A doctor just isn’t supposed to say things like ‘Oh no, Mr Johnson, would you MIND? You were here last week. And the week before. Your navel is supposed to look like that. You are completely healthy. Get a hobby!’
I am lucky. I have a GP who cares and listens. Once I went to see him for a couple of minor things that had been bothering me for some time, none of them severe enough to deserve a visit on their own. The first two he couldn’t do anything about, but I was told they were nothing to worry about. Then the doctor said ‘This next one better be something good’ and I nervously asked: ‘Was it was stupid of me to come here? Do you think I am whining?’ ‘No’, he answered, ‘Not at all, I just hate not being able to help you with these things, and as a doctor I want to help people so I really hope I can do something about this last one.’
For all of you, both doctors and patients: here’s a refreshment course in learning to listen. And when you’ve passed that course, I prescribe a soothing dose of Buddy Holly. A man who knew. The song is called Listen to me.