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Perspective: Being a patient and treating a patient - two very different things.
Posted by Elizabeth L, Mar 7, 2012. 876 views. ID = 5440


Posted by Elizabeth L, Mar 7, 2012. 876 views. ID = 5440
This post was written in 0 minutes.
This post has been awarded 14 stars by 3 readers.
This post is Part 8 of a writing series titled Life as an Interpreter.

It may be prejudiced of me to say, but I'm saying it anyway - I really have the best patients in the hospital.

I remember being a patient in our Radiology department myself, coming in for a back X-ray that would tell me what we already knew - my bones were fine, I just needed muscle therapy and a way to rid myself of the Eichlers' bad back jinx. It was strange to be a patient in my own facility; I remember looking at all the machinery a little differently as I slid onto the cold table in my gown. That memory surfaces every time I go down to Radiology with my patients.

Today was no different. My X-ray flitted through my mind and disappeared as I followed my petite, Guatemalan patient into the room. She was the cutest little mother of two I'd ever seen, with her dark, slanted eyes and the halting Spanish that made me suspect she was more comfortable in a native language. It was a standard X-ray - breathe, blow it out, hold, adjust, repeat. But as we stepped out from behind the lead wall to do a second image, she shyly asked me, "Y esa cosa no me va caer encima?" "And that thing isn't going to fall down on me?" She was motioning to the giant, boxy X-ray machine hanging from the ceiling, connected by tubing, sliding grooves, and other intimidating gizmos. In the dimly lit room I was suddenly aware of how big it was. I interpreted the question and the tech quickly assured her that no, no it wouldn't. Out of the broken Spanish that followed, I gathered that she thought it was all part of the test - that this big plastic and metal monster had to engulf her, press up against her, to do its job. She laughed in nervous relief, and while I chuckled on the outside, I was a little shocked inside. She was going to take it - whatever happened, without knowing what was going to be (literally) thrown at her.

It's so easy to forget what being a patient is like, and so hard to imagine navigating a medical system so foreign to your own, isolated by even your own language. Medicine tries so hard to predict a patient's every question, answering it before it ever comes up - a worthy goal, but hardly realistic in a world of 6,998,975,769 individual people. What else can we do then? The most important thing I took away that day was the need to create an area of trust, that rapport everyone always talks about - a horribly ugly word but very accurate concept. I've watched it growing throughout hospitals, as medical staff come to the same conclusion I did - we need that open field of communication. A place where patients can ask questions, even silly ones, even unrelated ones. A place which opens the way for us to tell them, no; no, the sky won't be falling down on you. Not today.

Copyright 2012 Elizabeth L. All rights reserved. has been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work. For permission to reprint this item, please contact the author.

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This post has been awarded 14 stars by 3 readers.
This post is Part 8 of a writing series titled Life as an Interpreter. The next part of this series can be found here: Medicine in the Kitchen.

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