Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day 16: The Kind That Helps People

The late great Randy Pausch in his "last lecture" famously recounted an incident with his mother where, after he received his doctorate, his mother proudly introduced him to a friend as "a doctor, but not the kind that helps people." 

I hate going to the kind of doctor that helps people.  I simply can't overstate that fact.  Now, as a disclaimer, I don't hate doctors (either the kind that help people or those that... don't., as a general rule).  Medical practitioners have an oft thankless job serving the public.  Often, if they do their job correctly, people might not even notice.  I can empathise.

I believe in modern medicine, I know that health care is a critical service, and I have good insurance and think everyone should have affordable access to health care.  So, that's how I feel in theory, anyway.

Let me give you some background.  I literally did not go to the doctor nor seek any medical care for the eight years that I was in college.  I survived yearly allergies, at least two cold seasons a year, and the worst that dorm and apartment living could throw at me.  It's not that I didn't get sick.  It's not that I couldn't have used medical care from time to time.  It's just that I would literally rather suffer through it; you know, what doesn't kill you... keeps you living, I guess. 

Last year I was feeling sick one week and it wasn't until my wife made me take my temperature and it was discovered to be around 104 degree temperature that I finally decided to go to the doctor.  Even still, I'd rather not have.

It's strange.  I count myself a rational person and I rationally know that my attitude toward going to the doctor is anything but.

As it happens, I had a 6-month check-up today, so I decided to try and analyse why I have such negative feelings about going to the doctor.  Here's some of what I found.

First, it's extremely inconvenient.  I'm a guy who gets irritated when I have to quit working on what I'm doing at any given minute long enough to walk down the hall to use the restroom.  Part of what it means to be a geek is that you naturally hyper-focus on things and the worst punishment is to interrupt them.  It's inconvenient to GO to somewhere else do do something you don't want to do anyway. 

Second,  it's not enough to force yourself to go a place you don't want to be, but when you get there you'll find a gaggle of other people.  Amongst these will be many people who also don't want to be there; each fighting the same nameless faceless bureaucracy.  Some will just be sullen, but some will be annoying.  Oh, it's the annoying people that really get to me.  It's a perfect storm to irritate anti-social me. 

Then paperwork.  THEN waiting.  Why the waiting?  Maybe there was once a time when the agreement surrounding a scheduled appointment worked both ways, but I've never seen those days.  It's irritating that appointment times seem to mean nothing, unless you are late, and the only reward for being on time is earning the right to wait  and wonder when you'll be able to actually leave the increasingly shrinking walls of the waiting room. 

Finally, a bubbly nurse calls your  name, and God bless her she's just trying to set the mood, and she's doing the best she can, but the happier she is the more it highlights how glum you're mood has become. 

In my case, the key question that is going to dictate how the rest of the appointment goes is going to be answered as the lovely nurse wraps my upper arm in the blood pressure cuff and begins applying pressure.  I try to intentionally calm myself; to keep the reading low, but I can't help ruminating on how unfair it is for the nurses and doctors to have a physical metric for how much I DO NOT want to be there, and how if I tried to devise an activity for raising my blood pressure I could not have done a better job than the situation I find myself in.

Then comes the exaination room.  This is my favorite part.  For the most part it's quiet, it's a respite from the hustle and bustle outside and in the waiting room.  But in the back of my mind, I'm waiting to hear the doctor through the door.  I'm waiting to hear the chart being pulled from the door, and I'm trying not to feel like a child waiting in the principal's office.  I can't help dreading hearing the negatives, feeling less than adequate, even worse, feeling all too much like a statistic; all too normal.  Feeling like I've failed in some way.  I can't help taking it personally. 

To my doctor's credit, he's a very affable person from the time he enters the room to the time he leaves.  He gives me information and doesn't dictate terms, but works with me to make informed decisions.  He never condescends.  That's why I choose to go back.

More paperwork, and one more bout with the bureaucracy.  

Then I leave.  Blessed release.  It's like going back out to a new-born world.  The reality check surrounding the notion, "at least I'm not at the doctor's office" is the only good thing about having to go in the first place. 

And now, I don't have to go back for four months.  I'll just try not to think about it until then. 

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