Your doctor is a patient, too
May 25, 2018
I’m relieved to say that it all works out in the end. I share this so that you know that I, too, understand what it’s like to be a patient. What it’s like to want, no need, to be cared for. Here’s my story, doctor as patient…
Baseline info: I’m a lumpy person. I grow masses in my body when out of balance. So, late 2016, when I notice the left side of my thyroid bulging from my neck, I’m not too concerned. The last year has been a whirlwind of change and my body is surely feeling it. I seek medical advising, and nothing looks concerning on an ultrasound, so I neglect the 6-month follow-up. Okay, I would never recommend that you, my patient, friend, or family member, do that but I am human, life is busy, etc… Excuses. Eighteen months or so passes and I find a new doctor (so appreciative for all that she’s doing to support me as I, too, need a naturopath. Doesn’t everyone?!). She is thorough and refers me for a repeat ultrasound which I schedule within the week.
A few days later, on a Friday, the medical assistant calls me – they are concerned about a particular mass in my thyroid and have scheduled a fine needle aspiration (FNA; aka biopsy) for the following business day, Monday. Wow- that feels serious. And, I have the whole weekend to think about it… I know I’m a lumpy, bumpy person (fibroadenomas, fibroids, etc.) so I continue to focus on positive talk in my head and out loud and redirect my brain when the inevitable ‘what-ifs’ begin.
Monday morning comes and my husband, Pete, drives me to the imaging center. He wants to hold my hand, if he can, during the procedure. He ends up holding my foot, actually, because there’s more room down there for him. The tech walks me through what to expect. I tell her that I’m a crier and am probably going to cry from now until it’s over. Not messy sobs just tears streaming down my face. I tell her this as to not have them worry about whether I am in pain; I’m just scared. After all, I’m about to have my neck jabbed with a needle 6 times: one with numbing lidocaine and five for the biopsy itself. She seems super uncomfortable by this – she starts stammering about how tall and gentle the doctor is who will be doing the biopsy. Tall?!?! Could I be the first terrified patient she’s had in there and that explains why she’s so unprepared to comfort me? I can’t imagine that.
I say the same thing to the doctor who comes in and introduces himself confidently. He seems unphased, unaffected by my tears or my fears. The lidocaine pinches a bit going in, but nothing even close to my recent wrist tattoo (!; that’s another story), so I can handle that. The aspirations themselves are not as much painful as they are stomach-turning, nauseating. I start with my eyes open, staring up but soon learn that I can see the doctor grimace as he tries to navigate from the right side of my neck, across midline to access the concerning spot in my left lobe. Okay, close eyes, breathe, feel Pete’s hand on my foot, breathe… First aspiration, done. Second aspiration complete. Wow, still 3 more to go, time is creeping. Third, fourth and fifth aspirations down and I’m finished. Cleaned up…
I snack a bit until the lightheadedness passes before I sit up. Then, off we go; no need to check out, we’re all set. My doctor’s office should hear results from the pathology lab in the next week; most likely in the next few days and then they’ll be in touch. I feel fairly normal; that didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would…
And, then, it HITS me in the parking lot: I was so fearful of needles stabbing into my neck for the biopsy that I didn’t think much about what they were testing for! Time to wait, think positively, and care for myself. The days of this week pass super slowly. I work a bit (sorry to my rescheduled patients whom I just don’t feel emotionally up to seeing), teach my classes (sorry for those students who had me a bit weepy!), and care for myself in any way that feels nourishing: lots of cuddles, good food, sleep, naps, juices, walks, talks with friends and family… As the week goes on, it gets harder to wait.
Thursday afternoon, I walk from work to Powell’s Bookstore to pick up an order. I leave the store and start to walk home – my cell rings through from my doctor’s office. Deep breath. “Hello?” “WendyLeigh?” Benign; follow-up ultrasound in one year. Then, the flood gates open and I am sobbing, sitting on a side street, head in my hands, sobbing. Now what?