Boston Women’s Journal - December 2007/January 2008

My Trip to the Doctor

After years of being nagged by family members to “just have a check up,” I decided to make the journey. After all, I preach Integrative Medicine, advocate taking the best East and West have to offer. Time to walk the walk. I asked around and got a name. He was based at a good hospital and seemed perfect. The recommendation included comments that he referred to an acupuncturist (great sign), and he had studied reflexology (better and better). I called up for an appointment and found there was a three month wait. Well, I had waited years to go, I could manage a few months for someone special.

I entered the large hospital, already feeling my white coat blood pressure response kicking in. Everything around me yelled “assembly line packaged managed care”, I couldn’t help noticing the ever present smell of decay and disinfectant, and the dirty bathroom. But I persevered. I went into the waiting room and signed in. I was given a form that asked just my name and address and my insurance coverage (apparently the vital information was where I lived and how to get paid). I took a seat in a wobbly, dirty, upholstered chair. Well I thought, let’s see what the magazine selection has to offer.

There was “Cooking Light”, and “Ladies Home Journal” (I didn’t even know it existed anymore), and I wondered where was the “Body and Soul”, or “Healthy Living”, or “The Boston Women’s Journal”? Well, I reasoned, maybe the hospital bought in bulk. Try not to be judgmental. As is my way I was 15 minutes early. After waiting 1/2 hour past my appointment time in an empty waiting area the doctor came in and led me to a room. He sat me down with a woman I believe must have been a medical student, though no introduction or last name was given. She asked me what medications I was taking. I told her none and tried to give her my supplement list. She said there was nowhere on the form for supplements. Before we could get any further the doctor came back in and swept me across the hall to a small cramped office. He instructed me to change into a johnnie and so I did.

I had a list of questions and supplements and a concise history of my medical life, but he had no interest. His first question was “Did I want a flu shot?” I said no and tried to explain my stance on inoculations and he just brushed me off and talked right over me. Then I asked if he wanted to know what supplements I took and he said, “Don’t you know those things can be very harmful if abused, and no I really don’t care.” I am taking a natural support I thought was important he know about and he said, “Why are you taking that junk when there are FDA prescription medications for that?” I tried to tell him that in fact what I was taking was FDA approved, but he simply ignored me. Next he took vital signs and did an EKG, (normal and quite fun to see) and proceeded to talk about my body to the medical student as if I was not there.

This monologue included some embarrassing comments about my caesarian scar (quite ugly), my feet shape and arches, and a ganglionic cyst on my feet “better get it checked, I had a woman with one of those and it was cancerous”, and other things too embarrassing to mention here. You get the idea. I was a living piece of meat.

We ended the interview with none of my questions answered, or even asked, a list of referrals for me to go to, and a slip to go get blood drawn at the lab. He had never asked was I married? Did I have children? What did I do for a living? What was my family medical history? I walked out dazed. No wonder my clients consider my intake interview to be long and involved.

How can we go to a doctor and be treated this way and expect to be comfortable with the medical system? I was shell-shocked, and I thought I was well-armed and prepared. What if I had been sick?

I am again reminded by this experience why my clients come to me and want to spend time to be understood and to contextualize their experience. People need to be listened to. We are looking for someone to see us as a whole person - not just a body - and to do this in a real and validating way. We all must be seen and heard to get well. I ended this experience with a renewed vow to do the best I can to help people to be seen for their body and spirit, in their wholeness. I also ended this experience thinking that if this was a receptive doctor no wonder medicine was having so much trouble helping people. I felt like I was in a foreign land where I could not speak the language, the language was not that of caring and supporting health. Renewed in my commitment to holistic care, I gratefully returned to my office and prepared for my next client.