I had to wait two weeks to see a Consultant at the local hospital, following my initial conversation with the ED doctor.  When I arrived in clinic I had a repeat x-ray of my chest. This was so that the Consultant could compare this x-ray image with the one I had taken in the ED department.

I can’t really remember how I felt.  I think I just felt relieved to be seeing someone.  I hoped that we would get some answers to our questions and leave with a plan of action. 

The Consultation – setting

Picture this if you will.  A medical student sat at the back of the room.  A nurse was sitting in the middle of the room (in front of me) and the Consultant sat by his desk.  A chair was placed at the side of the desk for me and my partner’s chair was by the door. I remember feeling a bit annoyed about this because I wanted him by my side.  Why is this significant to mention?  My partner and I had been in this together for the past two weeks.  Yet, the positioning of the chairs meant that at a time when we really did need to be by each other’s side we couldn’t be.  Afterwards, he told me how he felt excluded from the conversation.

Seeking my understanding

After initial introductions, the Consultant asked me to describe what had happened to me and what I had been told by the ED doctor. Doctors do this because they don’t want to assume what we know (based on the information they have been given) and want to check our level of understanding. 

A doctor who is experienced in communication will listen to what we say and pay attention to the words we use. This is so that they can adapt the way they talk to us.  What do I mean by this? Well, if a patient seems to know a lot and uses medical terms the doctor can respond by talking to them in the same way.  If a patient seems to know very little and uses basic language then the doctor needs to respond at their level. If the doctor uses medical language or jargon in this latter scenario they are likely to confuse the patient and waste time.

A look of sympathy

I answered their question, and as I did so, the doctor sat looking at my notes and the nurse sat looking at me with a sympathetic expression.  I got the impression that she felt overly sorry for me. This just made me feel more worried about what I was going to be told.  Plus, I hate people feeling sorry for me, so it didn’t help my mood.  I started to feel twitchy.

The news……

So, after this big apprehensive build up the Consultant tells me that all is well.  He has compared my chest x-rays and shows them both to me.  He decides that they x-ray I had in the ED didn’t show lesions in my lungs at all.  It actually showed some objects from the x-ray trolley.   At this point I just about stop my jaw from dropping open!

Annoyed

Rather than feel relieved by this news, I was annoyed and not for the reasons you might expect. 

a) I was annoyed at the nurse for looking sympathetically at me when she already knew the news was positive.

b) But more to the point, I was annoyed with the Consultant for not putting our minds at rest as soon as we walked into the consulting room. His actions led me to believe that the news was not going to be good.

If he had, taken the time to think of the impact the good news would have on me, I would have appreciated this so much more.

In fact, this is reflected in the experience my neighbours mum had this week. She has had investigations and went to see her Consultant for the results of her tests. As soon as she walked into the room her Consultant said that he wanted to alleviate her fears straight away and tell her she didn’t have cancer. This was before she had even sat down. He even gave her time to text her daughters to tell them the good news.  How lovely.  He recognised the stress she had been under and was sensitive to her need. She was then able to sit and listen to what he had to tell her. 

Impact on me

Rather than be relieved I wasn’t dying I was annoyed at the way I had been treated, and told them so.  I felt let down. I didn’t feel respected as a fellow human being who, let’s face it had gone through a testing time (to say the least). They didn’t once, acknowledge the mistake that had been made and how this might have impacted on me and my partner.  The Consultant didn’t even appreciate why I was upset when I explained that I thought his communication skills had been poor. I didn’t want the medical student to think this was good practice, because it wasn’t.