I’ve often wondered if doctors take a specific class in med school on bedside manner. Everyone knows the term. It’s how a doctor or nurse speaks to you, especially when giving test results, diagnosises, or updates on your condition.
You’d think for people who give bad news more often than not they would have developed excellent communication skills during their time of study. But you and I both know that’s hardly the case. In fact, most times I leave my doctors office feeling bewildered, irritable, and confused.
Giving bad news or surprising news is the worst as well. I’ll bet in the break rooms or staff cafeterias there’s a cork board somewhere stating “worst news deliverance tactics” or “this month’s bad bedside manner winner”. And I assure you, my Rheumatologist has got to be near the top of that list. I have not once revived good bedside manner from him. Not how I’ve come to expect it at least. For example, on tv or in the movies when a patient is receiving terrible health news there is always an extremely attractive sympathetic doctor there, holding the patients hand. If it’s a truly awful diagnosis usually there’s an extra nurse there with some supportive tissues, or the doctor starts off by saying something really encouraging like “you’ve been so brave”.
Did I get that? Have I ever gotten that? Hahaha….no.
Let me paint a picture for you of a terrible day my mom and I shared about six weeks ago. There we are sitting in my Rheumatologists office as he goes on and on about how my joints are deteriorating and how I probably have osteoporosis (gee thanks). The room is cold and sterile. My mom is perched on a chair in the back of the small room, and I’m uncomfortably sitting on a sheet of crackly paper on the examination table. Every tiny movement I make sends loud crunches throughout the room as I switch my weight from one butt cheek to the next. My doctor sits in front of me on a rolling stool with his lap top on his knee staring at the screen and not once making eye contact with either of us. And then he says….
“So what are we going to do about this lymphoma?”
Um…excuse me? It sounded like you nonchalantly just mentioned cancer…
Which was more or less what came out of my moms and my mouth simultaneously.
Now he graced us with eye contact.
“Yeah your tests found lymphoma and it looks like you have a tumor.” Then he just sat there looking at me expectantly like I’m the doctor and I will have something to say.
But I didn’t. I sat there in complete and utter shock, a million thoughts racing through my head at once. I couldn’t dare look at my mom. I just sat there and stared at my doctor. There’s a good chance my mouth may have been hanging open as well, but I didn’t care what I looked like at that particular moment.
Finally… “I have cancer?”
Which was followed by a quick blow by blow of my test results, which of course meant nothing to me. Why do doctors always assume we know medical terms? I’m not one of those hypochondriacs with WebMd forever open in my browser and the pocket edition of Merck in my handbag. Talk to me like I know nothing, because I truly don’t.
So, that Ladies and Gentlemen, is how my doctor told me I have cancer. Well at least the first doctor anyways. I’ve seen about six more since then, including my new GI Specialist and a new Oncologist.
The oncologist was a bit of a doozy as well. He popped the term “leukemia” into the conversion with such ease he could have been mistaken for asking me if I wanted a slice of cake. Which is always a yes, in case you were wondering. Preferably chocolate if you have it, thank you.
I’m rambling now so let’s get back to my point. Bedside Manner. It needs to be seriously studied before throwing all these new docs out into the world where we are just unknowingly waiting for them verbally destroy us. I don’t need a hug, or a pat on the back, or words of encouragement. I just need something other than “so let’s discuss this horrible new thing that happened…”
I need bedside manner manners. I have to believe someone out there has them. And if one person has them then maybe it can be passed on. It could surely save me from another mortifying sob session in the hallway. I hate crying in public. Or being told I have cancer from a man who can’t even make eye contact with his sickest patient (his words not mine).
Or would they all just prefer a piece of cake?