About six months ago, I wrote about a client who had a son admitted to the ER with unbearable abdominal pain. After two weeks in the hospital, they were discharged, with no new understanding of why the pain had occurred. It slowly subsided but last week the pain came back. The doctors are still stumped but at least this time, my client feels a bit stronger and more confident that she can handle the situation.
Here is what she has learned about talking to doctors:
- Be brief: Doctors are busy and overworked. They don’t want (or need) to hear about the first pings, how it culminated in a rush of pain, the laborious decision to come to the ER, etc.. This really is, ‘just the facts, ma’am’.
- Be emotional but don’t be a basket case: This is a tough one, because many people say, what, should I playact?! No, but sometimes if you just relay the facts, you will come off as uninvested, or worse, that the situation isn’t critical. And it is critical. You did not drag yourself and your 12-year child out into the cold Friday night, for a hunch. Your child (or your spouse, or sister) was in overwhelming pain and you did not know why. You want and need to find out why. However, too much emotion, uncontrollable sobbing, hysterical shouting, will just alienate the physician and disable communication. No matter how overwhelmed or scared you feel, you need to keep it together when you speak to the doctor, or have a family member or friend come and speak for you.
- Doctors don’t like loose ends: No one likes to feel powerless or feel like they don’t know. So sometimes, doctors, just like everyone else, like to latch on to a theory and make it a reality in lieu of an answer. If your gut tells you that isn’t correct, then stick with your gut. Don’t be rude or dismissive, but do say ‘Well, doctor, if it is not actually X, and it were Y, or even Z, are there any tests we could do to determine that?’ Often, new suggestions will arise, and other tests can be offered.
- Always leave with a backup plan: Sometimes you are admitted to the hospital for a fracture or appendicitis and treatment and the follow-up is quite clear. However, especially in children, over 60% of ER admittances are for unclear reasons, meaning pain or illness of unknown origin. If that happens in your case, make sure that on the discharge letter, under recommendations, the physician writes need for future testing. CT, x-ray, certain blood tests, etc… so that when you go to your kupah doctor to get a referral you can just show the discharge letter.
- Volunteer information but don’t be a competitor: If you have actually researched your issue and have information that could be relevant, then do share. For example, if a cousin was just diagnosed with a similar issue with similar symptoms, it may make sense to bring that up with the doctor, but don’t keep pushing it if they dismiss the relevance.