Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Out of Touch After Surgery
I'm back at work after an unexpected surgery. Waiting for my body to heal wasn't easy. But what made my surgery all the more difficult was the surprising lack of access I had to my doctor afterwards. Complications had me in the emergency room twice. I talked to ER doctors more than my own. I felt neglected.
Feeling neglected doesn't mean you're being neglected. But feelings are powerful nevertheless. When I got back to work I called Regina Sara Ryan. She's the author of "After Surgery, Illness, or Trauma." Ryan had some great advice on how to handle a doctor you think is out of touch. "It's a tricky path to walk," she says. "We are afraid of damaging this relationship." Still, she says the relationship we foster with our doctor is one of the most important bonds we have with someone. So... how to make things work:
1) Speak up. Don't let your physical weakness silence your concerns. Ryan says too many of us try to take on the burden of our recovery alone -- a saint-like approach that internalizes our worries and makes us passive healers. Sometimes our doctors intimidate us by their stature, their expertise. Try not to be overpowered by that fear, and if you still find yourself struggling ask a friend or relative to speak to your doctor on your behalf.
2) Keep a list. You're less likely to monopolize time and more likely to get the answers you need if you have a list of questions ready to ask your doctor. "A list gives the idea that you are not being casual," Ryan says. Remember, you're dealing with a physician you think is inattentive. A list of questions makes it harder to dismiss them.
3) Don't make your doctor the enemy. Your approach should be to salvage trust. Not an easy task when you're angry or in pain but try, regardless. Speak to your doctor about working together, even getting along. But be realistic. "Don't expect a best friend or the ultimate healer," Ryan says. What you want is a committed partnership.
4) Don't be blindly obedient to your doctor either. Express displeasure when your care seems below standard or your treatment disagrees with you. If your doctor isn't responding, Ryan says most hospitals have patient-advocacy programs that you can turn to for a new ally.
5) Last resort, make the switch. "A gruff manner is one thing," Ryan says. "But if your doctor isn't listening to you, if you have a real sense that something is wrong then it might be time to look for a new doctor." Red flags that should make you question: 1, a sense of incompetence, and 2, a lack of clear, available information.
Easing back into my routine feels so good, especially after the pain of surgery.
Have you ever felt neglected by a doctor? What did you do to get more attentive care?
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