Wednesday, October 04, 2006

On Being a Patient

All healthcare providers eventually have their turn as patients, even if it means just a routine physical. Even though we providers spend most of our time on the professional side of the exam table, there comes a time when we also must be seated on that table ourselves.

In this regard, I've had a modest share of experience, more often than not with chiropractors and acupuncturists, although I have seen my share of MDs, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, physical therapists, and Nurse Practitioners. My two hospitalizations were for a spontaneous pneumothorax (collapsed lung) at age 22, and an overnight stay to rule out cardiac problems (must have been gas) at age 25.

It always seems slightly odd to be waiting to have my blood pressure taken, or to step onto the scale and have an overly friendly medical assistant yell my weight out loud for all to hear. These experiences, among others, feed my compassion for my own patients and underscore for me the need to be vigilantly conscientious as a provider of medical care.

These days, my medical appointments center around back pain: spinal injections, physical therapy, and previously an enormous number of chiropractic adjustments over the last 20 years or so. Hesitant to take pain medications, I now have a TENS unit, a device which provides electrical stimulation to my muscles, essentially fatiguing the muscles into relaxation. Coupled with moist heat, stretching, and mental coaxing, I now shock my poor muscles into surrender. Still, my follow-up with the physiatrist will most likely result in another corticosteroid injection to my lower spine, or perhaps a series of lidocaine "trigger point" injections directly into the offending muscles. Woe unto the muscle that does not submit to such ministrations.

The humility of being a patient, of being on the receiving end of healthcare, is a frequent reminder of just how much better healthcare can be, and how I can be an integral part of that movement. It is also a reminder of just how vulnerable patients can feel, and we healthcare providers all need reminders of just how it feels to wear that proverbial johnny.
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