Saturday, June 30, 2012

An Impersonal World

Every time I visit a medical specialist--not my family doctor or dentist, who give me good personal attention--I encounter the impersonal syndrome, which consists of never hearing my name, first or last, mentioned by the celebrated specialist for whose ten minutes of time I have had to wait for two months.

This happened again yesterday when my appointment was finally scheduled. After waiting for 45 minutes in a sterile room, with nothing to look at but dull walls, the man himself appears, seems to shake my hand and reassure me my case is of no great importance; therefore he evinces little interest in me because he can't do surgery and therefore won't make any money from me. At no point did he refer to me as "Mr. Schiffhorst." Or even "Gerald," widely used by the assistants who are total strangers to me. Or "sir." Their only interest is in seeing my insurance cards. They seem pleased when I leave, wishing me a good day: one less patient to deal with.

Escaping from the specialist's office, my wife and I headed for a favorite restaurant, where the server, having seen my credit card at the end of the meal, called me by name, even pronounced correctly. As a result, he got a generous tip.

It happens so rarely that I am given such personal attention that it comes as a shock. I guess the decline in civility has to do with the speed of our culture and the population growth, or with the fact that most people are doing work they don't really want to do. One would think that, with the decline in the economy, clerks and servers would go out of their way to say "thank you, Mr. Schiffhorst" or whatever.

But the most common response I get in stores is: "There you go" or "Have a nice day." What happened to thanking the customer? And in the intimacy of a medical office, the use of the patient's name would seem to be taken for granted.

The junior medical staff are not trained in civility; the physician's assistant who examined me with rapid-fire questions that repeated the information I had provided in the 10 pages of forms I filled out was equally impersonal. But she smiled as she left the room.

My cat gets much more personal attention at the vet than I usually get in the medical offices I visit. The staff there reassure the frightened puss with soothing sounds ("Oh, Lizzie, you're going to be OK") that she cannot comprehend. The apprehension bordering on terror that I, as a human patient, might be feeling is never considered by a medical staff that, by and large, is on automatic pilot.

I hope that the newer medical schools, such as our own at the University of Central Florida, are doing something to train doctors to pay attention to the person in the room, to listen to what he or she has to say, and to look at the patient, not just the chart, and treat each person with respect and try at least to provide the reassurance they need.

Is this asking too much?

1 comment:

Ned Kessler said...

Jerry, I just have to comment:

Your post, very true in too many cases, had me thinking about my visits a year ago to the surgeon who diagnosed the serious infection in my eye, performed emergency surgery just hours later (that restored my eyesight 100%), and saw me often over the weeks that followed. In those visits, my experiences were completely opposite of the visit you described. Even so, I was agreeing with everything you said, and I still agree, but when I got to these words, I burst out laughing:

My cat gets much more personal attention at the vet than I usually get in the medical offices I visit.

It seems so incongruous, but it is true. Animals draw more compassion from others many times way more often than humans. A few years ago when a ballot issue came before the public about the inhumane way pigs were treated, I marveled about how the level of compassion for that issue compared to the level of concern about unborn babies.

My laughter was of the ironic variety, because your statement was so true, yet so wrong.