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Volume 1, Issue 2
Summer 2005:

Doctor and Patient: Scolding

June Bingham and Gerald Neuberg, MD

Cell 2 Soul. 2005 Summer; 1(2):a8

"When I Ask Questions I Get Sneers in Return."

Dear Doctor & Patient: The only time in my whole life that I have ever been made to feel like an idiot is when I visit my doctor.

Dr. Neuberg: That's a shame. I'll assume the doctor was scolding you NOT for smoking or for misusing medication, but for a "lesser offense" like asking too many questions about minor health concerns. The unkind doctor may be working too hard, but we shouldn't forget what it's like to be a patient. When I feel the need to refocus, I reread a little plaque given to me by one of my teachers (a compassionate Rehab Medicine specialist who later attended the Central Park Jogger). It says: "Guerir quelquefois; Soulager souvent; Consoler toujours" ("Cure sometimes; Relieve often, Comfort always)."

June Bingham: It's nerve-racking to walk into a busy doctor's examining room, especially when one's health problems seem less pressing than those of other patients in the waiting area. Sometimes when I finally get to see the doctor I feel tongue-tied; other times I become a blabbermouth and bring up too many subjects. When the doctor's eyes glaze over, what should a patient do?

Dr. Neuberg: If the patient comes in prepared with health records, medicines (bottles or list), and a list of concerns, it helps us to accomplish as much as we can at each visit. It's not fair to the next patient if something important is remembered on the way out. The doctor must listen with an open mind, but, if the discussion gets way off track (pardon the glazed look), we'll need to return to the primary concerns.

Ms. Bingham: But we patients are often uncertain as to what the primary concerns are. For instance, I thought that the few seconds of heart pain I occasionally suffer would rivet my doctor's attention, but he said they didn't last long enough to have any significance. At the same time, an itch deep in my foot bothered me terribly. It kept me awake at night but was too buried for scratching to have any effect. Finally, tentatively, I mentioned it to my podiatrist. He looked victorious: "No problem! Just buy an over-the-counter cortisone cream and apply it." Eureka!

Dr. Neuberg: No need to be shy about reporting physical symptoms and signs. That's why we're here. And anything that keeps you up all night certainly deserves attention. What doesn't work is when people cut into the available time by bringing up things I can't help them with, like the medical care of a relative, or a news article that doesn't really apply to them. Lengthy repetition of instructions wastes face-to-face time that we could put to better use, so I use handouts and written notes for patients who are worried about forgetting.

Ms. Bingham: It's hard for us patients to fit in all the symptoms we intended to mention, especially if the doctor is new to us and appears huge and impassive like one of those Easter Island statues. I do bring along a list, arranged not in order of seriousness (as a layperson I'm not competent to judge that) but in order of their importance to me. Even so, I sometimes get home and realize that I've skipped one or two. Maybe the reason I feel like an idiot after a session, especially with a new doctor, is that nervousness made me behave like one.

Doctor and Patient is reprinted with permission from "The Riverdale Press". It will appear as a feature in each issue of Cell 2 Soul. Bingham and Neuberg hope that Cell 2 Soul readers will begin to send them questions of their own for future columns. Readers are encouraged to contact the authors by sending e-mails to DoctorPatient~AT~cell2soul·org, with "Doctor and Patient" in the subject line.

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