My husband and I went to his pulmonologist, Dr. Howard Diener, and had the best healthcare experience. I wanted to hug him. I told him he was my doctor hero. Not surprisingly, his staff was awesome – helpful, kind, caring, attentive.
We’ve seen a lot of healthcare professionals this last week or so. A parade of home health experts – nurses, and therapists for speech, OT and PT. I was asking myself why I felt so much resistance to them when they were coming into our home to help. They were all pleasant, nice people. Why was my body tensing and reacting with anger to their well meaning questions and comments?
Let’s start with the fact that they come with an agenda – fill out the forms, check the boxes that our health insurance and their company requires, regardless of relevance. They spend a lot of time looking at their computers and asking very specific questions.
Their questions are narrowing questions. They aren’t widening up questions. In general, doctors and nurses are trained to narrow down the problem and try to solve it as quickly as possible. It makes sense. Manage the symptoms. So they learn the size of his catheters rather than what’s unique to our situation.
They want to offer solutions, their expertise, rather than coming from an open frame of mind. They don’t start by asking what we’ve tried, or assume expertise on our part from our years dealing with this disease. They don’t honor our experience, or our way of doing things. Some get there after we say “tried that” over and over. The occupational therapist finally said, “you’ve had this disease so long and figured things out for yourselves so I don’t have anything else to offer, as much as I wish I did.”
I’d like them to ask what is hard for us and what is easy, what we’ve figured out and what we think we need, what we want. I’d like them to ask us for our questions, rather than starting with theirs. I’d like them to explore the fit between our situation and their care model. They each tried but struggled within the limitations of their forms and requirements.
Our great experience started differently. This doctor had cared for Larry in the hospital six months ago. He walked in the examining room and started by talking about when he cared for Larry in the hospital. That was six months ago! Then he just asked us to tell him what was going on.
He had no notes in front of him, no computer. He made eye contact the whole time. He was such a good listener. If felt so different, so much more intimate a conversation than our usual healthcare interactions. I found myself relaxing.
He asked open questions about what was working and what wasn’t. He asked me to ask him my questions one at a time. He explained things easily but with respect for our experience and expertise. He kept pointed out things that were Larry’s choices. He was totally available to us, not at all rushed. He had a wry sense of humor along with a sort of common sense approach.
When I told him we were there because we were kicked out of hospice, he said “Oh, so you didn’t die fast enough for them.” It was a perfect blunt and funny comment. Right to the heart of the matter.
At the end, he acknowledged how hard it was for us to come to him and offered to answer any questions by phone. He remembered we’d done that after Larry’s hospitalizations. He was so available then, and is making himself easily available now. We felt so cared for.
It felt like an huge gift. It was the best healthcare experience.