as patient

15 Jan

I’m a shy person.  (Don’t be fooled by the fact that I talk too much–a vice I’m working on.)  In new social environments, my face flushes, my hands sweat, my stomach flips.  Maybe it’s because I have this trepidation, but I find a lot of excitement in subtle interactions (looking someone in the eye, extending my hand).  Actually confronting someone in person (like that passive aggressive beret-wearing asshole in biomed last week…Doria, Sara, and Amy, you know who I’m talking about), well that’s just flat-out cathartic.  One of my goals with this blog is to be open about my experiences here; otherwise, what’s the point?  I might seem tame, but many of my posts are profoundly personal, and I frequently pause before I hesitantly click “publish.”

Still, I’ve never not hit “publish.”  I lean toward putting my foot in my mouth after it’s too late rather than restraining myself to begin with, and I rarely regret it (though maybe I should).  But there is one part of my life about which that is not always the case: myself as patient.

They don’t tell you (or at least I never considered) that when you sign up to enter a medical field, you likely give up some of your privacy as a patient, unless you’re super motivated and committed to seeking healthcare elsewhere (which I am not).  John, for example, was hit by a car on his way to his ER shift in his fourth year of medical school.  He was barely late for his shift, except that he showed up on a backboard rather than a bicycle.  (He subsequently refused all pain meds so that he could work the rest of his shift once he was discharged; crazy kid.)  I don’t think he gave a damn, really, but it is a little odd: colleagues becoming care providers.

When we lived in Boston, John and I worked at neighboring hospitals.  Due to insurance and convenience, it made sense for me to go in for my regular appointments just next door.  When I was asked if I could be seen by a resident: “Sure!”  He/She was going to discuss my history, measure and weigh me, maybe send me to the lab to get blood drawn.  No offense to residents, but it’s not brain surgery.  Of course, what I didn’t consider was that, especially in our second year in Boston, most of the internal medicine residents knew most of the ED residents…and with a last name like Jesus, you’re not easily forgotten.  Okay, so they knew my husband…and, while it did strike me as funny when a resident, while performing my pelvic exam, was going on about how John was always welcome over for dinner with her and her husband when I moved to Philly, I never felt uncomfortable.  There was still a level of distance.

But things have shifted again.  MS2s began their clerkships two weeks ago…and so my friends are roaming around the hospitals and clinics at which I’m a patient (mandated, in part, by student health insurance).  One day I’ll tell you more about my not-terribly-concerning-but-somewhat-annoying chronic condition.  For now, let’s just say that I was at a specialty clinic earlier this week.  As I was checking in, the door to the clinic swung open to reveal an MS2 completing paper work on the other side.  I startled myself by the speed at which I turned my back so he wouldn’t recognize me.  The desk nurse asked me if I would be willing to be interviewed by a student or a fellow before seeing the physician.  I swallowed (I don’t want to be one of those patients who refuses to be seen by a student), “Well, the thing is, I kind of know the student…”  Nurse: “Oh!  Of course, say no more!”  Everyone was super careful and discrete during my visit…but, just as I was leaving, I slipped and almost tumbled into the MS2, and we exchanged an awkward greeting as my face turned beet red.

Here’s what I can’t figure out: where did this embarrassment come from?  I’m all about respect for patient privacy, but my personal level of discomfort in this instance is disconcerting…especially considering that I would probably be okay divulging every other aspect of my life to this MS2.  Maybe even my health.  But not there.  I’ve come to expect that, when I walk into a clinic as a patient, I am relatively anonymous.  No one knows me as anything but a patient.

Click on “Publish.”

2 Responses to “as patient”

  1. Erin Zoller January 16, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    I think there is nothing weird about this. This only highlights what an amazingly sacred bond/relationship a patient has with a doctor. You need it to be anonymous in only certain ways, but those ways are vitally important. It needs to be personal and open in specific ways, but which ways it is such is also vitally important. I truly believe that acknowledging this doesn’t make you a hypocrite by also being a medical student, I think it makes you well on your way to being a physician. It should always be about the comfort of the patient so at the end of the day, you feel what you feel, and if others think that is weird, they aren’t you and don’t matter:)

    • annaojesus January 21, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

      erin, i just wanted to say thanks so much for your comments–yours are always so thoughtful. i agree with you 100%, but it’s also good to hear from someone else. one flip side to somewhat decreased privacy by seaking health care at the institution at which you’re a student is that, in some ways, you have more people in your corner. i just heard the most amazing story about how one of the directors of the medical school saved a student’s life…

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