The ceiling gray, the lights were dimmed, and the room was cold.
I was terrified.
I had been in this room too many times since they had discovered my tumor and every time I came I dreaded seeing the doctor. I preferred getting surgery over seeing the doctor. He was colder than the room I was in and I was shivering. He had removed the tumor a month earlier and today I was to get my stitches removed. I clutched my stuffed troll "Wort" with his “Get Well” gown and tried to draw comfort from him, in a way only a child can.
The doctor came into the room and all my contentment from Wort fled. As always, the doctor asked me to remove my shirt so he could look at my armpit where the tumor had been discovered. I lifted my arm and he took my wrist with his chilling hands and looked me over. I felt like I wasn't even human.
He never spoke to me. I felt small and invisible. The doctor laid me down and began to remove the stitches with one of his sharp, cold tools.
It wasn't until I felt the tears running down my cheeks that I realized I was crying. Removing the stitches hurt a lot. I began to squirm with the pain and tried to pull away from the doctor. Wort fell to the ground as the doctor reprimanded me for not being still. I froze and, despite the pain, I didn’t move again as the doctor removed my stitches.
I was 11 years old when I had my first tumor removed. I was a sickly child who spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital and doctor offices. I learned quickly that I wasn't very important to the people who “cared” for me.
Most of the time the doctors were brief and really only talked to my mom. I’d listen to their conversations about how sick I was, what medicines they were going to give me, the side effects and the surgeries they had planned. Not once did any of the doctors think to talk to me about what was happening to my body. They all looked over my head and assumed I wasn't interested or not smart enough to understand. I resented them for their assumptions and hated most of my interactions with doctors as I grew up.
My negative experiences made the good ones really stand out. Simple things made a big difference. Like when they called me by my name or asked how I was doing. I had one nurse get me a Sprite with her own money and apologized for the long wait in the ER. Seems small, but it was important to me.
One particular memory really stands out.
I had been to four or five different different offices for appointments that day. I was being shuffled around and I didn’t know why. I was asked to lay on a couch and wait to have my blood drawn. It was the fourth time in the week and each time they had to poke me a couple of times since my veins were so small and hard to find. This time was no different, and the nurse was on her third attempt to find my vein.
I don’t know what she saw in my face, but her calm blue eyes looked into mine and she said, “You don’t always have to be strong.” With her words I cried. I let my tears flow freely and the nurse only smiled and continued to find my vein. She didn’t mention my crying or tell me it wouldn't hurt or that it would all be over soon. She just allowed me to be a scared little kid who was tired of being sick. After she had drawn my blood there was no toy or offer for a sucker. She simply said, “Bounta, I hope you have a good day.”
I left that appointment with my head up and I didn’t need my jacket to feel warm when I stepped outside.
For more tips on cultivating compassion in your office, Read "Patient Satisfaction: A Failed Love Story"