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July 27, 2018

I have recently started to volunteer for an organization called Friendshipworks, a wonderful group of people whose goal is to alleviate the pervasive problem of elder isolation.  Once a week or so I escort an elderly client to a doctor’s appointment, to help them get where they need to go but also to hang out and talk with them.  I started doing this as a way to give back, but volunteering in this way has had the unexpected side effect of giving me a patients-eye view of outpatient medicine.  I have had my own doctor’s appointments, of course, but my pediatrician, OB, and primary doctor all know I’m a physician and so I have long suspected that my interactions with them are somewhat different than what the general public would experience.  I didn’t realize how different.

You see, as an escort I’m anonymous.  Assumptions are made.  I’m just some middle-aged woman who clearly doesn’t have anything better to do than sit in waiting rooms with old people.  I push wheelchairs.  I walk very slowly with my elder.  I sit quietly during appointments.  I’m a nice person but maybe not very bright.  I clearly don’t have a job, or at least not a full-time one.  Perhaps I’m a nurse’s aide, or a distant relative.  I’m greeted politely or ignored completely.  People assume I will keep track of my elder’s stuff: walker, bag, shoes, which of course I do, and gladly.  I’m talked down to, as is my elder.  I’m greeted with exaggerated patience by the secretaries, as is my elder.  I’m sharply corrected for moving a chair in the waiting room to the wrong place.  My time is of no value – I can be told to wait, then see a tech, then wait some more, then be sent to get an imaging study that should have been scheduled ahead of time, then wait.  It is assumed I, and my elder, have no place to be.  We are told to come back in three months after nothing is accomplished except a medication change that could have been done over the phone.  People seem genuinely surprised when I do speak up, talking as I do in complete sentences.  The doctor is non-plussed when I suggest that that imaging test could be scheduled ahead of time next time, as though she never thought of that.  If I use long words they look at me like I have three heads.

We, my elder and I, are nobodies.

No patient, or escort, or family member, should ever be assumed to be nobody.  Every person should be approached with respect.  Period.

From → Healthcare

  1. thetinfoilhatsociety permalink

    But this is merely a symptom. We are in the middle of the collapse of Western civilization, as well as Western medicine. The current system is failing, and that’s the cause.

  2. Brad permalink

    I just stumbled on to your blog, this post is fantastic! Please keep writing. I am thinking of switching careers because I derive so little meaning from mine (I’ve been a programmer for 18 years) and am considering pursuing nursing because I feel that there are so many people who need help, but are treated the way you describe above. I’d love to be able to do what you did in this post.

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