Doctors’ receptionists have a tough job. They deal with stressed, unhappy, contagious people all day, and when they aren’t doing that, they file and photocopy paperwork, deal with ancient fax machines, and, I bet, put up with crap from the doctors. I’ve read that some offices don’t even provide their front-desk staff with internet access—which, to me, is practically a human rights violation. They probably get ill constantly from all the germs, and when they aren’t physically sick, they’re sick of their job.
Knowing this, I try not to be one of “those” patients. I’d say I’m pretty friendly, and I know I’m polite. In return, I hope for civility and, ideally, a bit of compassion. In my most recent medical experiences, I’ve encountered neither. My doctor never called me with my positive bloodwork results, and when I scheduled a follow-up, he and his staff forgot to check my results until I asked about them specifically. They were brusque and unapologetic and they sent me a duplicate copay bill.
When the time came to get my biopsy results, I didn’t want to go in and do it all over again (not to mention pay another copay or two). Instead, I tried to find everything out over the phone, and it got messy. In the end, the receptionist got fed up with me and said, “Remember, ma’am, you are not the doctor.”
This stuck with me, and not only because I found it funny that she called little ole 23-year-old me ma’am. It was also simply good advice. As I gear up for my first appointment with a brand-new doctor, I thought I’d share it. If you are a doctor, this may not apply to you. But otherwise:
Remember you are not the doctor.
Remember you do not have the doctor’s medical training, or credentials. Remember that to many, your understanding of your own health will never count. Remember you are presumed ignorant. Remember if you speculate or self-diagnose, you will be accused of hypochondria. Remember that not everything you’ve read or heard is true. Remember you may be biased, and remember fear can cloud your judgment.
But also: Remember it’s okay to be scared.
Remember to stay calm. Remember you care more about your health than anyone could who is paid to do so. Remember you have spent many recent hours researching your symptoms, and that if your doctor hasn’t kept up with latest research, you may in fact be better informed. Remember you are open to new ideas. Remember you do not have hundreds of other patients to keep track of. Remember you are focused. Remember you are the world’s leading expert on your own medical history and feelings.
Remember you are you.
Remember it is you, and not your doctor, who must live with whatever treatment—or lack of treatment—you’re prescribed. Remember you can seek a second opinion, or a third, or a tenth. Remember instinct counts for something, too. Remember it is easier for you to walk out on your doctor than for your doctor to walk out on you. Remember you’re worth more than a copay. Remember there are people rooting for you or relying on you to get well. Remember you are your own best advocate, but you are not your only advocate.
Remember you are loved.
Remember you are smart, and strong, and beautiful, and kind, and worthy, and interesting, and special, and whatever else you need to remind yourself of before you walk into the waiting room for your next appointment; but for God’s sake, remember you are not the doctor.
And remember you’re important anyway.