I heard a knock on the door.
“Come in!” I said. Instead of the doctor I was expecting, a medical student walked in. Inwardly I groaned as I pulled the neck of my flimsy gown closer together. My doctors are at a teaching hospital, so this scenario is not new to me.
I understand the need for medical students to see real patients. Really, I do. It’s a great learning experience. If you’re a medical student or have ever been a medical student, I apologize for thinking of you as a pet peeve. I know you must see many new patients every week which makes it impossible to foster a relationship with them. However…I did wish this particular one had looked at my file just a little more carefully.
As he paged through my file, Medical Student said, “I see for chemotherapy you were given Adriamycin and Cytoxan. Have you had any side effects or neuropathy?”
Blank stare. (If only my bloggy friend Lisa had been there to tell me what “neuropathy” means.)
“A tingling feeling in your fingers or toes?” he reiterated.
“No. I tolerated chemo pretty well,” I explained. Sixteen years ago.
“Do you have any side effects from the tamoxifen?” he asked. I had the feeling he really wanted me to have some side effects.
“Um, I don’t take it any more,” I replied.
“When did you stop taking it?”
“What side effects did you have when you were taking it?” he asked. See? He was determined to find some kind of side effect, ANY side effect.
“I had hot flashes and also some weight gain.” There you go, I thought. Some nice side effects for you to ponder.
He asked me to hop up onto the examining table. He felt the lymph nodes in my neck and under my arms, and then he listened to my lungs and heart. I decided that if he asked to do a breast exam, I would tell him no, thank you. Fortunately, he didn’t ask.
Finally, my real doctor came in. We started talking about the usual things; our kids, my job as a preschool teacher…not side effects. We’ve had almost seventeen years to build our doctor/patient relationship. And it seemed to me that he deliberately stood in between me and Medical Student as he did my breast exam, nicely providing a shield of protection.
He finished updating my file, said my labs looked great and wrote me an order for a mammogram. “See you in a year,” he said. I left the office, happy with my successful appointment despite Medical Student.
I still remember a question a different student asked me many years ago. While I was being prepped for surgery, she sat down beside me.
She asked me some general questions, and then asked, “Was there anything unusual about the mass?”
I had no idea what she wanted to know. I was 27 and over the previous few weeks had had to make some of biggest decisions of my life. I was about to have a surgery I really didn’t want. In my memory I sound rather flippant, as though I was telling her that her question was stupid. But in reality, I’m not sure how I sounded. I was alone, in a hospital bed, surrounded by those ugly blue hospital curtains that provide “privacy.”
“Well,” I answered. “It was cancerous.”
Sigh. Medical students.
I’m linking up at The Spin Cycle! It’s all about pet peeves this week. Why not try your own Spin?