This post was prompted by Liza’s post, which you may wish to read if you haven’t done so already.
After 34 years I’m still not a ‘good patient’. Even now, when faced with an invasive medical procedure, it’s quite likely that I’ll cry, panic and may even, in extreme circumstances, try to escape. I know that behaving this way isn’t not a good idea, and that it makes everyone’s jobs more difficult, and that it makes things take longer, but that doesn’t matter. When I’m in that moment of undergoing whatever unpleasant procedure it is I don’t think rationally, I just react – badly!
I think that one of the problems faced by people who have grown up with medical conditions is that sometimes the medical profession expect us to be well-behaved, because we ‘should be used to it by now’. And, of course, no one really expects someone in their mid-thirties to behave like a five year old when having an injection. As well as this, there is the idea of ‘the good patient’, who suffers stoically and bravely – the word ‘patient’ taking on its full meaning here.* As Liza has discovered, this patient is the one that medical professionals really want; someone passive and uncomplaining, who makes their job as easy as possible – which is understandable enough. If I was a doctor I wouldn’t want to treat me either!
Like ‘good’ patients, ‘bad’ patients also need people, especially medical professionals, to look beyond their facades and to understand why they’re reacting in what can seem like an extreme and unnecessary way. While ‘good’ patients’ feelings and fears can be overlooked because the person is being quiet and calm, those of ‘bad’ patients’ can also be easily dismissed; under that useful phrase “just making a fuss”. In both cases, the person’s feelings are not addressed or taken seriously**
Speaking as a ‘bad’ patient, I don’t mean or want to be difficult. My behaviour is not premeditated. I don’t want special treatment, either***. I’m just frightened – yes, even though I’m 34 and I’ve undergone several operations, dozens of procedures and hundreds of tests – I’m still frightened, and unlike Liza, I’m not very good at controlling that fear.
I’m working on not being such a bad patient, but I’m not sure I’m ever going to be a good one.
*This idea of the ‘good patient’ , and where that idea comes from is something I’m trying to write about in another post, which may or may not ever be ready for public consumption.
** I must say that it’s not always the case that patients’ feelings are dismissed. Part of the reason why I think the work of Adult Congenital Heart Specialist Nurses is really valuable is because they are there to listen to patients’ concerns and feelings, and actually talk through things like the emotional impact of surgery.
***At least not consciously, but I suppose the fact that I’m protesting against the procedure being done to me indicates that I do want ‘special treatment’ in the sense that I want to be allowed to escape the procedure!