Color & Control:

The problem with being too polite during a doctor’s appointment

By Tierra Drollinger

There I sit, in the waiting room of another doctor’s office. I try to hide my shaking hands and unsteady nerves by holding my beloved Kindle that has my latest book downloaded onto it. No one will ever know I can never actually read in a waiting room anymore. I’ve had too many bad experiences with doctors’ appointments and I cannot read with ease until it is over and done with.

To keep myself from racing out of the waiting room and back into the car that would take me home, I always plan something fun or tasty afterwards. From shopping at my favourite stores to ice cream and smoothies or quesadillas and three cheese chicken alfredo, I always have something at the ready to cheer me forward with one foot in front of the other into the medical offices. Sometimes I don’t have enough energy afterward and I choose a nap at home followed by a simple trip of window shopping to the nearest stores by my house. No matter what it is, there must always be something to keep my courage pressing me forward rather than letting my fear get the better of me as I race out the door.

My parents always taught me that you should be polite to everyone you come across. This carried through to my doctors’ appointments as well as daily conversations with others.

At 2 years old I broke my arm but didn’t even cry out when the doctor moved and twisted it to see if it was really broken. I liked the doctor and didn’t want to be impolite by crying, even if broken arms hurt. Mom and dad took me home, but came back for an actual X-ray when I still wouldn’t use the arm. That is when they discovered it was broken and despite the pain undoubtedly caused by the doctor wiggling my arm, I still didn’t cry out as expected. I often find myself finishing a doctor’s appointment, having been very polite and yet I wish I had yelled or screamed—or at the very least voiced my experience- earned opinion.

A basic appointment to look at my heart and lungs to make sure they were healthy happened when my pain was an 8/10 that day so I wasn’t at my best. I hoped for just a simple “your organs are fine,” and I would be on my way. Instead the doctor told me without hesitation that I needed to lose weight and that I was obese. If I could just lose weight, all of my health problems would disappear. I politely nodded, in complete shock that someone could say that to another human being. Please note the doctor was a very skinny man and interestingly the smallest doctor I had come across yet. I was 130 pounds and here he was telling me I was obese and that the fat was making me have pain. That all of my years of suffering were because I was “overweight.”

Even years later I wish I had stood up and told him that my thyroid had recently given out on me, and I had gained the weight since my thyroid rudely quit its job. My freshly prescribed thyroid medicine hadn’t been taken for long enough to put me back to my previous state.

A more outrageous experience happened when I was getting ready to change doctors. After telling this prospective new doctor my health conditions, he unapologetically stated that he had never heard of those things, so they didn’t exist and I didn’t actually have the problems. I very quickly decided he was not the doctor for me.

Another experience that stands out starkly in my mind is when I was at an excruciating 10/10 and the nurses took my blood pressure with the machine. I screamed bloody murder in my mind and kept telling myself I could handle it, that I didn’t need to rip off the blood pressure cuff and let out my scream. After they put me in the room to wait for the doctor, I sobbed from the very depths of my soul. I had never felt so traumatized before. And all because I didn’t speak up.

My saving grace was/is my current primary doctor. For the first time I actually have a doctor who not only lets me talk, but wants me to get involved in finding things to help me. After 21 years of life, I have finally found my voice.

I used to not even consider correcting a doctor or speaking my worries and asking the questions. Now, I walk in with questions and concerns on a paper and leave with battle plans and a smile on my face because I was heard and helped.

My confidence has grown in doctors’ appointments, and when I now visit other specialists I can tell if they are going to be good and help me, or if they are just going through the motions. I know if I will have wasted visits to come, or effective intelligent physicians who will actually try to help me. And then I act on that and either keep seeing them, or go looking for someone else.

I am still learning to fully speak up and say all I feel so I get the best from my visits, but looking back, I have come so far. The question I now ask after each less-than-effective appointment is: why are you even going to this doctor if you aren’t actually being helped?

If we are paying for these appointments, we should be getting something out of them other than feeling lesser as human beings or suffering further because they didn’t understand how much pain we were in when we walked in. It is not enough to go to these appointments and need a reward planned after to make it through the whole visit, although it is good to reward ourselves for doing hard things. We deserve practitioners that put in as much effort as we do. Because when that happens, good things come of them.

With my doctor I don’t need a reward to keep myself walking into one of the exam rooms. When I leave the appointment I actually feel like it was time well spent, even if it is one more option we are checking off.

And that is how it should be.

So ask yourself: are your doctors helping you? Do you feel safe, secure, and heard in their exam rooms? Or are you settling and being polite?

Fight for a good doctor. Don’t put up with a bad one. Good doctors may be rare, but they are worth it!

And so are you.

Tierra Drollinger is a 24 year old, upbeat writer who writes about various chronic pain syndromes from her 12 years of experience with them.

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