I intentionally titled this post when doctors seem dismissive rather when doctors are dismissive.
Most doctors are anything but dismissive. Overall, my doctors have been great and this post is not intended to be a criticism of any doctor in particular, though I do use specific examples, but rather it’s an attempt to raise awareness about yet another important aspect of patient care.
I do believe many doctors appear to be dismissive from time to time for a whole host of reasons. Perception matters.
No matter how great your doctor is or isn’t, one of the things you remember most later on is how he/she listened or did not listen to you. And of course being dismissive isn’t exactly the same thing as not listening, but they are closely tied together.
Having a doctor who is competent is vital, but having one who listens to you and is not dismissive is also important.
After first ruling out a heart attack the day I went to the ER, the attending physician there went on, though unintentionally, to dismiss my chest pain. After a brief discussion where I was “reassured” that more than likely my pain was nothing, the doctor left the ER room with almost (perceived by me to be anyway) a flippant attitude, patting my legs and saying something like, these kinds of aches and pains happen to people our age.
Needless to say, I soon began feeling more than a little embarrassed and then guilty as co-payment costs and dollar signs starting flashing through my mind. He meant no harm. I knew he was merely trying to lighten the mood and make me feel better, but he didn’t lighten the mood and I did not feel better. To me it seemed he was being dismissive.
Then there was the comment often made, again with purely good intent, by so many on my health care team. I can’t tell you how many times during/following appointments, before surgeries and all through treatment I heard the words, you’ll be fine.
Again, this was a completely innocent remark which was supposed to be comforting for me to hear, but I found it to have the exact opposite effect. No one knew things were going to be fine. Saying so felt dismissive, as if my fears were being diminished. Even hubby sometimes remarked on this very thing. And many times, I might add, his feelings as the caregiver were dismissed entirely, or so it seemed to him.
The day I learned I was going to be having chemotherapy was one of those times when I lost it while still in my oncologist’s exam room. When I point blank announced to him yes, rather dramatically, something along the lines of, I’d rather have a dozen more surgeries than undergo chemotherapy, he didn’t say anything, but gave me a look that to me said, come on lady, get a grip. Again, it felt as if my fears were too easily being dismissed. I was terrified and for some reason I wanted him to understand this. I’m not sure he ever truly did.
Later at appointments following each infusion, my health status was monitored of course, along with all the necessary markers and such. In addition, I would be given an opportunity to inform my team of any side effects I was experiencing. While admittedly, my side effects were mild in comparison to those some experience, still, I sometimes felt they were too easily dismissed. They weren’t as bad as they could have been, therefore, I didn’t feel comfortable “complaining” too much and so I didn’t. Sometimes as a result, I felt they were dismissed. I felt dismissed.
More recently, I received what to me was upsetting news about my bone health. The side effects of my ongoing adjuvant hormonal therapy have raised some pretty intense havoc on my body. The side effects of this treatment are real, unpleasant and serious and this time, I did not so easily allow them to be dismissed.
The difference now is that I no longer keep quiet because since my mother’s cancer and then my own, I have a lot of experience from the cancer patient’s vantage point. I now express, or try to express, exactly how I feel about things to my doctor. I don’t allow my concerns to be so easily dismissed anymore. I think I’ve earned this right, but I don’t think any of us should have to “earn it.”
A patient should never feel dismissed.
When patients are feeling sick, (due to any reason or cause) they are often also feeling vulnerable. When you’re feeling vulnerable, self-advocating is harder, perhaps even impossible at times. Sometimes it’s easier to allow your thoughts, feelings, symptoms, fears or worries to be dismissed.
If you’re a caregiver, you might feel as if your feelings or fears don’t matter as much or at all, so you simply keep quiet and allow them to be dismissed.
Anyone who is part of a medical team can be tremendously helpful to patients, no matter what the situations are, by merely acknowledging their patients’ feelings, pain, reaction to medications, fears, symptoms, emotional well-being or whatever it might be. In addition, the importance of acknowledging the feelings of the care giver cannot be emphasized enough either.
I understand. I know this must be hard. I hear you. I want to help. I wish I could change this. I’m sorry about your pain. I don’t blame you for being frightened. I’m listening. I care.
Such simple and empathetic words would mean so much to most patients and to most caregivers as well during times of illness or injury.
From a patient’s point of view, or at least from this patient’s, having a doctor who listens to your fears, understands your worries, acknowledges your pain and does not dismiss your concerns means an awful lot.
Sometimes it can mean everything.
Have you ever felt your concerns were “dismissed” by a doctor?
What do you remember most about any doctor?
What’s something a doctor said to you that truly made a difference?