Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Are Physicians really Bad Patients??

Are doctors really worse patients than non-MD trained people?  I have given this question a lot of thought and have yet to reach a conclusion.  However, I’m going to start sharing some of my thoughts… 

I thought about this the other day as I headed to my dental cleaning, a dental cleaning I was 4 months late for mind you.  Also, this was my 3rd medical appointment of the day, plus an hour with my personal trainer.  Yep, it was a day of Lisa.  Funny thing is most days these days are “days of Lisa.”  MY medical appointments fill the functional hours of most days, and I hate it, and maybe that is my point.

Why do doctors have a rep as being bad patients?  Often, that rep stems from being non-compliant with their treating physician’s orders, their medications or their follow-up.  OK, maybe just being non-compliant in general.  I have tried really hard to be a good patient, but it is hard (oh so hard), and this is my full time job right now. 

So, as I drive from appointment to appointment, I question why is it hard for doctors to be compliant? At first I thought maybe it was the years and years of training where your schedule is not your own.  I personally spent 6 years in post medical school training, and I can’t even tell you how many appointments were missed because of unexpected emergencies, how many teeth cleanings were cancelled.  I won’t mention how long I went without certain standard screenings.  We were taught in medical school, and in our training, to put our duty, our patients, above our own health.  Even as our mentors would espouse that in order to be good physicians we have to take care of ourselves they would make it difficult for us to be released from duty to take care of our own needs.

Henceforth, for years we are taught to put off our needs. Whether they be simple needs like eating, using the facilities, or making our own appointments there was always a patient that had to be seen.  It is a part of the profession, but does it subliminally train physicians to put off their own care in order to focus on their patients?

As I examine my own life, I have realized that I have often rushed my recovery from injuries.  Four days after breakng my foot still non-weight-bearing on crutches, I was on service in the hospital responsible for 30-40 patients and new interns  trying to crutch around ahospital larger than 2-3 average city blocks. My attendings would laugh at me seated at the central nursing station with my foot up so I could be available, most days my colleagues would take the code beeper since I couldn’t get anywhere very fast. Yet, I was there bright and early every morning even though I had to pack to move across the country to start my fellowship through it all.  I never considered calling in sick, how would that have worked that then? Nothing bad happened, but I shudder to think of the possibilities if I couldn't have responded to an emergency on time.

After my first go-around with cancer surgery I returned to work a few weeks after being cleared to walk again post radiation. I was far from being ACTUALLY able to handle the rigors of my job and returned to work in a non-clinical status, but returned all the same.  I fell asleep on the floor playing with Sadie that first day back.  The first time I took call my foot was still so stiff upon waking that when I was called to a code in the middle of the night, I had to hop down the hall to respond.  I could hop pretty fast, but…

So, this time, I vowed to myself that I would take the time needed to heal myself before returning to work.  I have refused to feel guilty about that.  Every morning when it takes me 5 minutes of stretching to get out of bed, I know that I am far from being willing to be responsible for a baby’s life when I can’t respond quickly enough.  I am making great progress, but I am far from being ready to do my job, to accept responsibility for a child’s life.  I’m giving myself this time, and I can only hope that when I return to my profession I’ll be ready for it, because I do love my little charges!

I am learning to accept my limitations and take care of myself.  I know that when I return to caring for babies this will make me a better physician.


Kim Tracy Prince said...

Oh Lisa. this is an incredible insight and a wonderful post. I'm humbled by you.

Dr. Lisa said...

Thank Kim, but it is I who am humbled by and grateful for you.