Some doctors know how to connect with a patient right from the start. They not only offer excellent care, but also hope. And, unfortunately, some don't........
The first pain management clinic I went to, in June 2000, in a major urban university affiliated teaching hospital, was overcrowded and dingy. The olive walls of the waiting area contrasted harshly with the orange plastic chairs that circled the room. The thick haze of pain coming from the crowd of patients made it hard to breathe. Everywhere I tried to rest my eyes I saw clenched jaws and jiggling feet and silent tears. The crescendo of pain in that room was still rising as I was called in to see my specialist.
Dr. S. was a small woman, dressed in a lab coat that reached below her knees. She radiated a harried efficiency. She acknowledged me with a brief flash of eye contact and an accompanying head nod and then asked her resident to describe my symptoms. As he spoke the words I had given him fifteen minutes earlier, she poked at me like a fish monger checking the freshness of a slab of salmon. All the while she concentrated more on instructing her resident than on connecting with me.
She was soon ready to declare that I had a neuropathic pain syndrome and to prescribe more medication. For me, calling my pain “neuropathic” was like my dermatologist naming a rash I once had on my arm “dermatitis.” She didn’t provide any real illumination; she merely described what was, in medical language.
I had many more questions to ask her, but she kept looking at her watch and telling me we could discuss them at the follow up appointment when we would be able to discern if the medications were helping. She kept edging toward the door. I tried to lasso her in place by tossing out more questions. With a final flourish of her watch she bolted through the exit. As a parting gesture, she explained that the department administration only allotted her fifteen minutes per patient, and she had already used up her quota and any reserve minutes.
For her, I was a petri dish to which she was adding some mold to see what might grow.