By: Katherine Marple
During my 14 years with type 1 diabetes and my time spent interacting with the diabetes online community, I constantly hear the same theme: Doctors aren’t listening to their patients, and their bedside manners are deteriorating. Every day, it seems, I hear about people who have been treated as if they are simply a number or dismissed as uneducated in their own health conditions.
On one occasion, a doctor misled me about an issue in which he didn’t have any experience. Instead of admitting that he didn’t have the answer and would follow up with me after he got one, he told me wrong information. The result was that I became severely sick and required hospitalization. Another doctor blatantly blamed me for a miscarriage that was not my fault. She could have researched my file or learned more about my condition before blaming me, especially during such an emotional time, when I was already laying unwarranted blame on myself. I’ve had doctors tell me that they don’t have an answer and leave it at that, offering no guidance and leaving me to find answers on my own. I’ve even had doctors accuse me of lying. Some have completely ignored my concerns. Others have simply not listened to my inquiries at all.
A few days ago, while I was in a local store, a woman approached me. I had never met her before, yet she told me of a very troublesome time earlier in her life. At that time, she had extremely poor circulation, which made her lower body swell. Doctors told her that she had only two months to live, but she was young, with small children to raise and a future to enjoy. The countless specialists she saw told her that the issue of raising her children was “not their problem,” then sent her on her way.
Without my background knowledge and firsthand experience, I would have assumed that she was exaggerating the doctors’ responses. But because of what I know, I believed this stranger. She recounted her struggles to figure out what she could do on her own to survive and get better. At the end of her story, some thirty minutes later, she said with a smile, “That happened twenty years ago.” She knew what I know: that some doctors lose their regard for human life and don’t allow themselves to become entangled in what may seem like a lost cause.
I recently overheard a medical professional recount a story to some friends. She told of a patient of hers with Alzheimer’s disease who asked, “Where’s my wife?” every time she entered his room. Having read his file, she knew that his wife had passed on many years before. One day, she became fed up and bluntly stated, “She’s dead.” When I heard her tell this story, my heart ached for the man, who had to relive the pain and mourn his deceased wife all over again.
I understand why some doctors become this way. They deal with people dying on a regular basis, and they spend their days fighting illnesses that may never be cured. But if doctors don’t allow themselves to become an integral part of patients’ lives, leading them toward ways to live well despite their illness, then maybe they are in the wrong profession.
As patients, we employ doctors. We pay their checks and keep them in business. If they are not helping us, then we should fire them and seek help elsewhere. I understand that doctors may not have all the answers. But, when we ask questions about our health, which ultimately determines the outcome of our lives, the least we deserve is consideration, empathy, and honesty.
Over time, I have found my way to doctors who exemplify what the profession should strive for. My current endocrinologist knows me by name. He put his arm around my shoulder and handed me a tissue when I was overwhelmed by having a chronic disease. When I told him that I wanted to try metformin to help with my insulin resistance and antibodies, he initially responded that he couldn’t authorize it because I have type 1. A few days after my appointment, however, he called me to say that he had researched metformin and had filled my prescription. He asked me to call him if I needed help using the medication or had any questions.
My current OB/GYN called the medical board when I asked which insulin was safe to use during pregnancy. She held my hand when I cried in her office because I was afraid and mentally drained from worrying over my own life and that of my unborn child. Even though I ended up having a cesarean section, she fought for me to have a natural birth as far into labor as she could because she knew that I was terrified of infection. Knowing that she understood what I wanted, I was able to trust her when I was the most vulnerable.
To doctors, we may just be another patient, another number. But we have families and people who care about us. We have futures and dreams to fulfill. We’ve got this one life, and when we are looking for medical solutions, we seek out doctors to guide us. If nothing else, they should feel honored as each of us walk through their doors, because out of the millions of doctors out there, we chose them to help us. There are great doctors in this world–I know, because I go to them. But they are too few and far between. I beg the professional medical field to raise their standards of patient treatment, and I encourage our community to tolerate nothing less than what we deserve.