Nobody likes to experience emotions that can be negative. Anger, frustration, overwhelm. I can’t think of anyone who feels those things while having a good time. But there is one emotion that I don’t like to experience more than any of the others combined.
I don’t like to be vulnerable.
Considering there are days when I have trouble getting myself in and out of bed and more days when I need help cleaning up in the bathroom, people probably assume I have gotten used to being vulnerable. But they are wrong.
On Memorial Day lots of folks were celebrating the coming of summer while also remembering those who gave their lives for our freedoms.
I was headed to the emergency room.
A tube that had been surgically inserted into my kidney to bypass a blockage had come loose, leaving me in significant pain and leaking pee all over the place. I was not a happy human being.
When a visiting nurse told me to go to the E.R., I assumed they would pull out the tube that was causing so many problems, then I could regroup and call my doctor to talk about what the next step would be. After several tests, the E.R. doctor told me they were not going to take the tube out. My doctor was on vacation and nobody knew what his plan was. They were going to re-wrap the tube and send me home, not at all concerned that my leaking pee for the next week and a half, until my doctor got back, was a problem for me.
This tube came out of my kidney and drained urine into a leg bag, which was awkward and extremely uncomfortable because the tube was not in place. I could not complete my own transfers or get into the shower without significant help as long as this tube was attached to me. Add to that the fact that constantly leaking pee everywhere is demeaning on several levels. Therefore, when Dr. X in the emergency room told me they were leaving the tube the way it was, I got upset and started to sob. Significantly. This tube had turned my struggles a nightmare.
I have made no secret of the fact that I have a psychiatric diagnosis that causes my emotions to be out of whack sometimes. When I get worked up it is a process for me to calm down again. All that information is easily accessible in my chart at the hospital.
Dr. X told me she didn’t understand why I was getting so upset. When I tried to explain, through my tears, she said: “You are being totally inappropriate.” Then she left the room. The interaction crushed my already fragile spirit.
I was a woman in physical and psychological pain, not a spoiled child in need of a time out. Everyone who feels the need to go to the emergency room is not at their best. The doctor missed that. When she came back, I told her about my psychiatric diagnosis and she said:
“You should be able to calm down more quickly.”
According to whom? My trouble with my kidney tube was not messing up her life in the slightest.
She was completely clueless.
At that point, I asked for another doctor. She said “Everyone else is very busy. You have no choice but to deal with me.”
Was this doctor competent? Probably. But in that moment it didn’t matter. She was being incredibly cruel.
Rage still prowls just beneath the surface when I think about that day.
A few weeks earlier, I was in another vulnerable situation. The blockage in my kidney had been found a few days before and I was being wheeled down to surgery to put the tube in. I had the same procedure almost twenty years before and nothing about it had gone well. I also knew this tube would severely limit my mobility and independence. My tears flowed freely as I entered the room where the procedure would take place.
When he saw the state I was in, a guy in scrubs walked toward me. “Hey, Lorraine. My name is Rob, and I am going to be assisting Dr. Patrick today. I want you to know that I have read over your medical history several times and I know you have had trouble with this procedure in the past. I totally understand that you are anxious right now. All of us in the room are really good at our jobs, and we will take good care of you. But I know the toughest job today is yours. You have to trust us. I know how hard that can be.”
Instantly I relaxed . Taking a deep breath, I knew that the procedure would still be hard, but at least I was surrounded by people who had my back. I improved so rapidly that I went home from the hospital two days later.
One doctor met my vulnerability with criticism. The other with compassion. My feeling good about the care I receive is essential to my recovery no matter what I happen to be going through medically.
It is not complicated. In medicine, as well as the rest of life, competence should always be coupled with compassion.
That is just the way I C it.