Doctors Doing Damage

When my friend B. went to see a specialist last Thursday, she watched a representative from a drug company sail into the waiting room carrying six cups of coffee and a bag of pastries for the office. In the meantime she sat and waited. And waited. And waited. She had an 8:30 a.m. appointment but wasn’t seen until 9:15. “It’s just wrong,” she wrote in an email to some friends.

We haven’t been to the doctor in almost three years and I have been struggling with camp forms lately, wondering who to list as our primary care physician. Do we even have one? But I remember four years ago when I took one of the kids to the doctor and was told to take a seat.

After twenty minutes I asked if the doctor was running late.

The receptionist answered with a surprised smile, “Oh, no. He’s on time. Have a seat. We’ll call you.”

It took an hour and fifteen minutes to be seen.

In what other profession can a sales representative who flits in without an appointment be seen ahead of a paying customer? In what other profession could you stay in business and constantly be so late?

If you show up an hour and fifteen minutes after class starts … you miss the class.

If you’re a pilot and you come an hour and fifteen minutes late for a flight … you get fired.

We weren’t even given an apology, or an acknowledgement that we’d been waiting for so long.

Not only were these doctors running inexcusably behind schedule, they seemed to feel no accountability for their actions.

But there are much bigger problems in today’s medical system than just an astonishing lack of punctuality.

Instead of treating us like active participants in keeping up the health of our bodies and our children’s bodies, doctors often act like we’re obtuse.

This power dynamic usually starts from the first interaction. A doctor introduces himself by his last name and title, expecting to be called Dr. X, but inevitably calls you by your first name (or just “Mom” if you’re in the hospital having a baby, which is even more insulting), establishing that he is (presumably) more educated, more knowledgeable, and more worthy of respect than you are.

He acts hurried in your presence (he is, of course, because he’s running an hour and fifteen minutes behind schedule) and treats your questions like petty annoyances.

Even when you have a good, genuine, equal relationship with your health care provider, your relationship can change in a shorter time than it takes to snap your fingers if you refuse a recommendation.

Pregnant with my first child, I declined a pregnancy-induced diabetes test. I was aversely affected by sugar and I knew the test would make me sick for the rest of the day, if not the week.

Since I couldn’t eat sugar, I was on an ultra healthy no-sugar diet. A typical dinner was raw broccoli, green beans, a glass of milk, and a half a cup of plain yogurt. I wasn’t eating that way to be virtuous. Small quantities of healthy high protein food and vegetables alleviated the overwhelming nausea I had. I exercised every day and lost weight in the first trimester.

So when a hospital nurse midwife ordered this routine test, I asked for more information. She got annoyed. I explained that I was severely affected by sugar and was eating none, and barely any fruit (except pineapple, which I sometimes craved). She told me the cure for pregnancy-induced diabetes was to go on a low-sugar diet, the diet I was already on.

“You’re going to buy yourself a C-section,” the nurse midwife said angrily, scaring me with a detailed list of the myriad problems that would result because of my refusal. My baby would be enormous and possibly malformed. I could die in labor. Because I refused a simple glucose test? It seems silly now but I left her office, sat in the car in the parking lot, and sobbed.

Eight months later the doctor (I switched practices) ordered an emergency sonogram. “For inter-uterine growth retardation,” she said offhandedly. “You’re measuring too small.”

After six and a half months of nausea, I felt so good I had started biking long distances every day, fast.

“Could I be measuring small because I’ve been exercising?” I suggested.

“Not a chance,” she said, hurrying away to “help” another patient.

We all have the same goal: good health. It’s time for doctors to slow down, talk reasonably instead of using scare tactics, and not be so hurried and so prejudiced by their own preconceptions that they do not listen. It’s time for them to put the needs of the patients first and the needs of the drug companies last.

It’s also time for people seeking medical attention to insist on being treated respectfully and not assume that the doctors know what’s right for them.

Those providers have forgotten me—not one could remember my name. But their words, their insensitivity, their hurriedness, and their arrogance have had a lasting effect.

A version of this post first appeared in a print issue of the Ashland Daily Tidings.

Do you spend a lot of time at the doctor’s office? Are you happy with the way you and your children are being treated by your health care provider or do you feel your doctors are doing you a disservice?

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