What I Want My Patients to KnowPosted on Aug 20, 2019 by Dr. B
A few words about Dr. B's feelings about her patients and profession first written in early July and published in August of 2019.
After a grueling week of long hours and doing my best to keep up with a litany of things, I am exhausted, sick, and without a voice. And still, I sit here lamenting over the last few calls regarding lab and imaging results that I did not get to make (because I literally have no voice), the couple of referrals I still need to process, and the slew of things that will be awaiting me on Monday. In these moments, I beat myself up over every last thing I didn’t do, instead of the things I did. If I feel this way about myself, I wonder how my patients feel about me. Would they be disappointed that I fell short, or would they have a heart of compassion and understanding if they truly knew how I felt and what a day at our office is like? So today, I feel like putting these thoughts to paper. Maybe it will give a glimpse into my life, maybe it will touch someone else who is going through a lot, or maybe it will be nothing more than a cathartic exercise for me after a long week. No matter what purpose this piece will serve, I felt compelled to share it with those who have and continue to be part of my journey.
From the time I was 3 years old, before I understood the amount of schooling involved, what kind of paycheck or status I might have, or the impact my career would have on my family, I dreamed of being a doctor. Even after I understood exactly what this decision would mean for me, I never wavered. God had called me to be a doctor, and I would not choose another path. For me, this is more than a job. It is part of my purpose here. Despite all the ways this job breaks my heart on a daily basis, it calls me back each day. Every morning, I do my best to start anew and remember why I chose this profession.
I care deeply for my patients. Not everyone gets the joy and heartache of sharing in other people’s lives in such an intimate and deep way. My patients share their secrets, hopes, and fears with me, and they trust me to protect and value their experiences and feelings. It’s not for everyone, and there are times when it can be very draining. Walking with someone through their darkest moments and deepest hurts never gets easier. Still, I recognize the immense privilege it is for others to share this part of their lives with me, and watching my patients grow up and grow old is truly a gift. I don’t take this for granted for a moment.
If you are my patient, I have lost sleep over you. From newborns to nonagenarians, if you are sick, struggling, celebrating a milestone, working toward a goal, or I just haven’t seen you in awhile, I have sat awake when I probably should have been sleeping wondering how you were, if you needed anything, or if you would think it odd for me to call and check in on you. You are in my thoughts and prayers just like my own family each night. Before I enter the room to see you for your visit, I have prayed for clearness of vision and the right answers, words, and actions to get you the help or support you need. Whatever your gender, race, religion, background, views, sexual orientation, political affiliation, education level, or vocation, I want to take the best care of you that I can, and I want you to feel that you are important to me. Some patients require more than others, and some patients’ needs are more emergent than others. Just like my three children require different things from me at different times, my patients have various needs. This means that some days your need might be put behind the need of another who needs more immediate care or attention. I hope that my patients always know that I would do the same for them should the need arise. At the end of the day, I hope they also recognize how blessed/fortunate/lucky they are if they are not the one who needs my immediate attention. For some perspective, some weeks the top of my list includes a patient that is actively suicidal, a child recently taken into foster care, a rapidly decompensating patient with a chronic medical condition, a child with signs of abuse or neglect, or a patient needing extensive coordination of care because of their mental health or social situation. It is definitely not always a good thing to be at the top of my list.
Grace is a wonderful thing. I try to extend it daily. I know everyone has bad days and makes mistakes. I try to show grace whenever possible because for all the things I know about the lives of my patients and my colleagues, I don’t always know the tremendous hurdles they might be facing. I have a pretty big heart of forgiveness. If you have ever been worried about saying something off color or offending me in some way, just say so. Talking things over typically makes a world of difference, and you are likely to find that I let whatever it was roll of my back. I always hope I will be shown the same grace and forgiveness in return. I make mistakes and sometimes get frustrated, but I always feel sorry if I don’t handle things in the best way possible. I am always ready to apologize if I have wronged you.
I am human. I get sick, my kids and family get sick, and sometimes my family or friends die. I enjoy the rare opportunities I get to take a vacation. I know when you are sick or scared, or when you need something, you want to be able to turn to me, and 99% of the time, I will be there. In fact, most of the time when I am sick, I work through it. I cared for patients through a high risk twin pregnancy and my second pregnancy in which I faced several health issues. I have worked through flu and strep epidemics, long winters in the hospital (during one of these winters I lost one of my good friends and colleagues and was back at work within an hour of receiving the news), pneumonia, and the loss of two of my beloved grandparents. I worked through tremendous sickness and laryngitis just this week. I made sure I protected my patients while doing this. Once in awhile though, I can’t be there, and in these moments, I always have a back-up plan because I still want you to be taken care of no matter what. You may not like Plan B, but no matter how hard I try, there are some things that I just can’t overcome. When I was preparing to deliver my third baby, I found myself questioning my OB/GYN about her vacation plan, days off, and surgery schedule. I love and trust my OB/GYN, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else bringing my sweet daughter into the world. I quickly realized though that I wasn’t in control, and if my OB/GYN was going to be gone, she would leave me in good hands. Truly, there is no one in the world more deserving of a vacation or the chance to take care of her kids if they are sick than my OB/GYN; after all, she has literally had my life and the lives of all 3 of my babies in her hands, and she has provided me the most incredible care time and again. I soon realized if she was unavailable it would be for good reason. I got lucky she was there to bring my daughter into the world, but if she hadn’t been, I would have handled the moment with grace. Please understand, if I am not available it is for good reason, and I will likely still have one of those sleep-losing nights over missing no matter how good the reason.
I know how hard it is to wait. Waiting on lab results, waiting on imaging, waiting on referrals, waiting on an answer, it’s all painful and hard no matter how you slice it. There are so many times that you sometimes have to wait. A few weeks ago, I took my daughter to her amazing Pediatrician. She needed a referral to an ENT. Her referral was being sent to an office, where I send the majority of my referrals. In the time since she was seen, I had sent 4 referrals to ENT, all of which had set up appointments before I received the call to schedule my daughter’s appointment. I am not a doctor all the time. Sometimes I am the patient, and I get your frustrations, hang ups, and anxiety. I feel it too. I was feeling it waiting on that referral for my little girl, who is having trouble hearing due to recurrent ear infections during a critical time in development and language acquisition. I knew her Pediatrician was working on it, and she was probably triaging several patients’ referrals that all needed done around the same time. Please know I am doing my best to work through it all because I know how hard it is to wait even for a moment when you or your child needs something. In the end, my daughter’s appointment was scheduled much further out than the patients I referred. I had to tell myself that seeing this wonderful ENT, who I so respect, will be worth the wait. Just like I can’t get fast food service if I want a gourmet burger, there are times when it takes a bit longer to get quality. The wait is still no fun though, even if it is worth it, and I can recognize and appreciate that more than you know.
My staff cares just as much as I do. Every member of the team we selected to launch our clinic had some very important things in common – they all cared deeply about providing excellent service, promoting health and wellness, and supporting families. Like me, they feel privileged to be part of your lives, have moments when they lose sleep over you, sometimes make mistakes but always try their very best, and always want to be there to serve you even though on rare occasions they are human and have to miss a day. We are fierce protectors of one another and are a team in every sense of the word. We look after one another like we look after our patients. I can’t say enough how much of these people go to the ends of the earth day in and day out to make sure our patients have what they need. It’s something you just don’t find everywhere.
Before I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to be a wife and mother. I am very fortunate to have a husband and children, who willingly share their wife and mother with each of you. Still, I only get one chance at this wife and mom gig, and I want to make sure I get it right. There are evenings when I come into an appointment in softball gear, and I run straight from a patient visit to the ball field to coach my oldest daughter. There are afternoons when I need to run over to the school to see my son’s latest scientific creation. There are mornings when my baby needs an extra snuggle from mommy before I drop her off at school and head into the office. For all the sacrifices my husband and kids make, so that I can live out my calling, there are times I owe them my undivided attention and my presence at the moments that matter. If you catch me on my way in or out on one of these days, give me some of that grace we talked about, and know that I am doing my best to balance all the important things in my life. Being the best wife and mom I can be really makes me a better doctor in the long run.
It may not mean much, but I want my patients to know that they are more than a number to me. Being a primary care doctor is not a means to becoming wealthy or gaining notoriety. It means more to me than a paycheck or fame. It is getting to be apart of families, watching children grow into happy and capable young adults, helping patients of all ages make healthy choices and overcome illness, supporting parents and then grandparents as they raise their families and welcome new seasons of life, and holding the hands of my geriatric patients as they pass from this life with dignity. What I want my patients to know is there is not a single day that goes by that I am not immensely grateful for this opportunity to share in their lives, and I hope they feel even an ounce of that when they call or come to see me.