My curtain was pulled around my bed as I listened to the voices coming from the corner of the room. The doctor spoke politely but firmly, “We can’t take out your gall bladder, there is nothing wrong with it.” Then I heard the patient gasp, and as she choked back tears, she said, “But Doctor ___ (I missed the name) said he would take it out.” The doctor (resident doctor??) replied, “You will not be having the surgery.” The patient’s voice became louder and more forceful as she said, “I am not leaving this hospital until I have my gall bladder removed. I can’t go on any longer feeling like this.”
I lay in the hospital bed in a ward of four patients wondering what would happen. The doctor said nothing but quietly left. The patient continued to defend her position with the nurse. Several hours later, I learned that she would be staying in the hospital after all – for more tests.
As I listened, I found myself judging her – “she knows more than the doctors?” Why would she want something removed if it is unnecessary?” Later, I chastised myself. I should know better. Of course she knows more than the doctor! She has to live with her pain and discomfort every day. She doesn’t understand the tests and what they aren’t showing, she just knows something has to be done. I began admiring her for her defiance of most patient’s immediate submissiveness toward the authority of doctors. However, I also realized that she was looking for a “quick fix”. Just remove this organ and I will feel better. I don’t know how many times I have thought if the doctor could just find something wrong with me, operate and fix the problem. Then I could just heal from the surgery and return to my life. I couldn’t help think of that desire after I had this hysterectomy. Yes, there is pain, yes, there is fatigue, yes there are limitations. But in 6 to 8 weeks most people return to their full routine of activities. Even those who have slower recoveries say that in one year they are feeling wonderful. One year!! That seems like a small blip of time compared to thirteen years and still going!
Before I went into the hospital, I was reading a book by Bernie Seigel and he mentioned that cancer patients who are the least passive and the least submissive are the ones who have the greater likelihood of surviving. He did preface that you don’ t have to be incredibly rude but you do have to stand firm for whatever is in your best interests. I like to think that this patient’s stubbornness who wanted her gall bladder removed caused the doctors to take her pain very seriously and found a way to help her. I think too often during my illness I would very politely “share” my symptoms with a doctor and then leave dissatisfied believing that the doctor didn’t really “get” what I was telling him/her. Recently, Greg took me to see my current doctor and Greg spoke up and said to the doctor, “I just want you to know how ill my wife has been.” My doctor looked up from reading my file and said, “Oh I know how ill she is – just from these tests. I also know that I have a lot of patients who have far less wrong with them and they complain a lot ”.
Later, I thought “What confusing messages we must give doctors”. If they are used to hearing a lot of complaining, whining, and tears – no wonder they might think how I am coping well and may not be in that much pain. In the hospital the morning after surgery, I smiled and was friendly to the nurse and she interpreted that as I must be feeling fairly well and “would I like a lower dosage of morphine?” Sometimes I think my patience and friendliness and forbearance are virtuous traits: ”Oh how stoic and brave I must be.” But those same traits also may have hindered my progress. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to be rude to doctors – but if I don’t learn to be more forceful rather than downplaying my symptoms since I am aware that it could be much worse and if I don’t learn to communicate my frustration and yes, even anger by how many years I have had these symptoms, why should I expect doctors to take me seriously? Fortunately, I believe I have a doctor who does have some appreciation for my circumstances but I need to consistently communicate boldly and strongly so that he will approach my case with that same kind of resolute determination finding answers for me. I saw very little of my surgeon in the hospital and when I did, she said very little. Therefore, when I see her Friday afternoon for follow-up regarding this hysterectomy, I need to keep the image of the ”gall bladder” patient in my mind so that when I ask questions, I don’t leave her office until I am happy that I have had my questions answered and I don’t need to feel apologetic that I am taking up her valuable time!