I wonder, Doctor, if you know that our phone appointment left me with an ache in my heart this morning.
I tried to get ready for our appointment, listing all my questions and concerns and requests for referrals, knowing how pushed you are for time and how I need to be ready and organized for our call. I understand that.
I was ready. At the end of each question or request for another referral, your question was “Is there anything else that you need before we end this call?”. Although innocent enough, I could feel the pressure you felt to get through this and onto the next appointment, or perhaps onto your lunch, since our phone appointment was at noon.
Do you know how important the relationship between a doctor and patient can be? Do you know that it is so much more than you providing the referrals, answers, ideas and then moving quickly to end the time? It is more than the mechanics and the details of what I might need at that time. It is the relationship with you that is also a huge part of the equation for me.
You are my doctor, my partner in my taking care of my health. That is significant to me. You are significant to me. Yet, I feel like you don’t even really remember who I am. I know that you have so many patients and such limited time….I truly understand, having been a social worker in the county skilled nursing facility myself before I retired. I know how productivity is measured. I know that healthcare is also a business. I know that you have things that have to be done.
For one moment, however, I would like to get your attention on a deeper level. In that phone conversation, our lives touched for a moment. And I am entrusting you with helping me live my best life in terms of my physical health and well-being. And when that phone call ended, I felt sad. Very, very sad. I know that this sadness is about much more than our brief interaction, but I also know that our interaction added to my sadness at what I see happening in so many places in terms of lost opportunities for connection.
The time spent together does not really have to be much longer, I think. It is the quality of the time spent together….the attention (true, present and deep connection) that makes a difference. To enable the other to feel really seen, heard, and attended to. Paid attention to. Cared for and about during those moments together. What a difference it could make with just a simple statement and question….like “I don’t have as much time as I might like, but I wonder, how are you doing….really?” And then to take a few moments to really listen and hear. It would make a difference for me.
You were much more present with me when we first began our relationship – you, the healer, and me ,the patient. You were newer to the system then. You have learned and become much more efficient, which is what is demanded of you. And I feel the loss. And it makes me sad. It intensifies the aloneness that I, as a single older woman, can feel in this world.
I recently sent you a copy of the Advance Directive that I formulated with my Estate Attorney. You responded that you received it. Nothing else. It would feel so different to perhaps have an acknowledgment of what that process can be like…..what this time of life can be like….and that you heard and understood my wishes.
I took a chance at one point not too long ago and commented on the different quality of your email responses. You laughed and said that you were now following a formula where you could plug things into a template and that this worked much more efficiently. Oh…….I see….
So here I am, putting myself back together again. Shutting down the part of me that was open to you and hoping for a more human connection. Moving on with my day. I miss what we used to have. I miss how some of my previous doctors would talk with me, even (dare I say) share a piece of what was going on with them…..? A doctor who was retiring that shared some of his struggles throughout the years that I had known nothing about…..but he shared that with me and for a moment, we were two human beings connected. Another doctor who took the time to offer comfort after a less than sensitive phone call from another specialist giving me bad news on a late Friday afternoon…..news that turned out to be false. My doctor’s reassurance and presence helped me get through what could have been a weekend from hell.
I know that what I wish for may be a reflection of my age, and that things are different now. I have to say, though, that I still see how others respond when I take the time to really listen. That hunger and need has not changed. Have we learned to expect it less? Have we compartmentalized that to only primary “significant” relationships? Dare I say that all relationships have some level of significance?
I don’t blame you, Doctor….. I know that times have changed and that you are overwhelmed with patient care and numbers and documentation. I know. But I miss the moment of soul to soul connection that we might have had. That connection can be so nourishing and make a difference in someone’s day, someone’s week, someone’s month, someone’s life. I might have given you a moment of connection as well ….. a moment when you might have remembered why you first became a doctor…..
One thought on “A Letter To My Doctor”
Not that I see any doctor on a regular, but that over the years I’ve noticed how different they all are and how that is just so human. The strangest thing, is that one that I’ve not enjoyed his opinionated masculinity in the consultation room, was on a tree study with me a week ago and was rather jolly. Retirement has taken the façade and work pressure off.