As if facing surgery wasn’t bad enough, I was required to appear early in the morning, without makeup, clad in sweatpants, and lacking caffeine fortification. On the bright side, I would leave the facility without the ugly looking cyst on the joint of my finger. Well, I hoped I would leave the facility.
For the cyst to be removed, I would be put under general anesthesia. Risks were involved with this process; I had signed a detailed list indicating my awareness of all of them. Among other negative outcomes, I could die!
The surgical facility provided an accommodating atmosphere. A corner of the waiting room was kid-friendly and offered children’s books and toys for little ones who might be in tow. Small tables between the chairs in the well-lit waiting area held a variety of magazines. Restrooms were clearly marked, and a large TV streamed entertainment, or perhaps distraction, for both patients and those who accompanied them. My stomach churned nevertheless.
From time to time a nurse opened the door to the great beyond and emerged to summon the next patient. At last she called my name and led me back to where my fated awaited me. Welcoming and upbeat, the nurse directed me to a changing room complete with a fashionable hospital gown just for me. I wouldn’t be caught dead in that garment anywhere else. In fact, I didn’t want to be caught dead in one there at the surgical center as a result of my rapidly approaching time on the operating table.
There’s nothing quite like trying to don a hospital gown with numerous ties and no instructions to provide a moment of levity. Summoning the nurse for assistance, I giggled with her at my less than stellar attempts to properly secure the required wear. For a fleeting moment, I forgot the reason for my presence.
Once suitably attired, I made my way to the hospital bed designated for me. Attempts to make myself comfortable on it were foiled by the Siberian temperature; I could die of frostbite before even being wheeled back for surgery. Noticing my discomfort, my attending nurse offered warmed blankets to make my pre-surgery waiting time more enjoyable. The additional covering reduced my chill, but my mind whirled with thoughts of dire possible surgical procedure results.
Despite disturbing thoughts floating in my mind, I was happy it still worked. I could verbalize my name and date of birth upon every request. Sorry, I didn’t have a serial number to give.
As much as I dreaded being taken into the operating room, I was equally desirous of getting the surgery behind me. But I was forced to wait for my turn under the knife. The nurse periodically checked on me and gave updates on how long it might be before the surgeon would be ready for me. It wasn’t progress, but at least I did not feel forgotten.
The anesthesiologist eventually showed up to conduct her required pre-surgical consult. Yes, my name and date of birth were still the same as they were when I was asked those questions ten minutes ago. No, I had not acquired any allergies since arriving at the facility. Her next question threw me. “What type of law do you practice?” she queried. Huh? What did my occupation have to do with my surgery?
My facial expression as well as the lack of an immediate response must have registered with the anesthesiologist. She turned my chart around. Smack dab in the middle of it was a large neon post-it note on which was written in big letters, “She’s an attorney.” In that instant, I transformed from a patient into an adversary.
Quick on my feet, even though they were under a mound of blankets in the hospital bed, I replied, “I don’t do malpractice work. I’m an adoption attorney.” Still feeling I had to justify myself, I added, “And I love nurses. My son is an R.N.” This explanation seemed to do the trick, as the anesthesiologist laughed and asked about my adoption work.
But the damage had been done. My eyes were opened as to how doctors and nurses viewed me. I was not simply a patient needing medical assistance; more importantly, I was an attorney who had to be handled carefully because I might sue if medical staff made a mistake.
The surgery would take care of the annoying cyst on my finger, but the medical professional-patient relationship was irreparably harmed. I questioned whether the great bedside manner and sense of caring I had experienced to that point had been sincere. Perhaps it was merely an act with medical staff treating me with kid gloves because of what I did for a living.
Happily, my surgery was successful. The cyst was removed during a procedure free from complications. No errors were made by the medical staff, and no medical malpractice lawsuit had to be considered. I was home before lunchtime and able to imbibe a caffeinated beverage. But my naïve view of being seen merely as a patient when receiving medical treatment had been killed.
I have a terminal case of being a J.D., something of which medical professionals are sorely afraid and by which they judge me. I am a patient leper thanks to my job. Can’t I simply be a patient regardless of what I do when I am not clad in a hospital gown?