Dysfunctional Encounters of the Physician Kind


With hospital systems and insurance companies requiring increased quantity of patient appointments rather than encouraging better quality interactions, no wonder I have encountered many frustrating doctors in the course of my disease. Don’t get me wrong, I have met my fair share of great doctors who provide me with the incredible care I have received over the past 2 and a half years. But most physicians are booked at 15 minute intervals–and it literally takes me 15 minutes to list the diseases I have and the medications I take.

This is a system wide problem, not a physician one (mostly).

Recognize anyone?

Many times I’ve been driven to tears by physicians and others who were at best too busy to hold an actual conversation about my deteriorating health, and at worst, downright rude and dismissive when I tried to describe the varied, often random, sometime vague symptoms. Here are a few examples of those dysfunctional encounters:

  • “She’s depressed. How quickly can I prescribe an antidepressant and get out of here?”

Soon after I fell ill, a cardiologist that I worked with at the heart hospital referred me to an infectious disease specialist at the Eastern Virginia Medical School.  Sitting in the office that morning in severe pain, having not slept the night before, and relaying my symptoms and concerns for the umpteenth time, I burst into tears.  The physician asked few questions, ran no tests, then leaned back and questioned whether my boyfriend had broken up with me.  It was a female physician who asked that question!

  • “You need to see the doctor today?  Good luck with that.”

I had been experiencing a few days of extreme dizziness accompanied by a racing heartbeat.  When the heart rate topped 150, I went to the emergency room where doctors were able to stabilize the heart rate and blood pressure.  The ER doc sent me home that evening with clear instructions – call this cardiology practice first thing in the morning and let them know you need to see a cardiologist tomorrow.  So I did and was instructed to leave a voicemail for the scheduler. By early afternoon, no one had returned the call.  I called again, was put on hold, then ultimately transferred. “Yes,” said the scheduler, in an exasperated I-can’t-believe-you-called-again tone, “I got your message, but can’t schedule you for at least 3 weeks.” Then (wait for it), “those ER doctors have no idea how we handle things around here.”

I did get to see a cardiologist a few days later, but only because I know him personally and he saw me on his lunch break.

  • “She’s doctor shopping, just looking for pain meds.”

I’m a healthcare professional.  I know there are drug-seeking patients that make the rounds, so I understand that doctors are cautious when it comes to treating pain.  But not all patients are addicts. There are thousands of people with debilitating, excruciating pain that just want it to stop.  So here’s another insight.  The vast majority of us DO NOT want to take pain-numbing drugs that leave us in a mind-numbing stupor.  We don’t want to manage the pain; we want it to go away.  Forever.  Listen, don’t assume.

  • “I have paperwork to fill out, other patients to see and a date tonight!”

I was waiting on the exam table. The doctor finally entered the room after a very long 45 minute wait in which I entertained myself through a game of “connect the dots” with the patterns on the ceiling tiles. He stood sideways in front of me, between me and the door. Literally, he had one foot positioned out the door. Proclaimed what? And then he was gone. Never did he ever…Listen to me!

It took eighteen months to get a diagnosis.  I can’t help but believe that more time in an interdisciplinary huddle and less time fumbling from specialist to specialist would have resulted in a more rapid diagnosis and game plan for recovery.

2 Comments on “Dysfunctional Encounters of the Physician Kind

  1. There are many excellent naturopathic physicians out there. They will listen to you and treat you in a new way. You can bring of the tests you have taken, their results, your diagnosis and your meds. You may be treated with herbs and acupuncture. You may be very pleasantly surprised by the results. At the very least, a good naturopath’s treatment can supplement your western medical care. Most naturopaths treat the cause of the illness or problem, not the effects. They seek to get to the root of what is going on and treat that. Good luck to you. It sounds like you have been through the ringer.

  2. My 21-year-old daughter recently had a similarly disheartening experience when establishing a relationship with a new primary care doctor (also female). The doctor walked in, introduced herself, apologized for being late, picked up the chart and started going through her medications list. When the doctor got to “Desmopressin” she stated, “I’m assuming that’s for bed-wetting?” My daughter was embarrassed and irritated. Rather than treating her like a person and asking what she’s taking and why (in this case, the Desmopressin is actually for a condition called Diabetes Insipidus), the doctor treated my daughter like a meds list and made her own assumptions. Is it the limited time they have with patients that leads a doctor to address the meds list and not the person?

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