On being a patient

Accessing health care when being a medical student is a curious thing.

We didn’t have a doctor as kids. My GP dad would occasionally dole out half-hearted advice while he was tiredly doing something else like “Have a glass of water” or “you’ve got blah blah infection – take this (out of date, leftover, with someone else’s name on it) tablet/cream”. I don’t remember taking a lot of paracetamol or nurofen. Or getting a lot of sympathy for anything. As a result when I moved out of home I never went to a doctor for anything much.

Over the last three years medical school induced hypervigilent awareness of my body  has led to many “oh GOD I have cancer IN MY LUNGS/STOMACH/TOE” moments. But despite this hypochondria, or maybe because of it,  I actually managed to delay seeing someone for a condition that I actually had. Oops.

EARLY 2010, LATE AFTERNOON, DR’s OFFICE, SUN STREAMING THROUGH WINDOW

Me: So just here for the pill again thanks.

Dr (making conversation waiting for script to print): soooo how long have you tricycled* this?

Me: Well…I don’t really tricycle…I just keep taking active pills to avoid it  for as long as possible until I get a breakthrough. Previous GP suggested that because my menstrual weeks are total write offs. Sends me batshit** crazy and makes life hell. So avoid. At all costs.

Dr: Hmmn. Do you have any deep dyspareunia, pelvic pain, low back pain, pain on defaecation or midcycle pain?

Me: Uh, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. But probably not more than anyone else.

Dr: Even though you’re on the pill?

Me: err…huh?

Dr: Most women don’t experience that. I’m going to refer you to a gynecologist.

Me: Oh-kay.

Dr: Here’s your script. And referral. Go and see him.

Me (thinks): should I have a glass of water?

He gave me the referral last year. I ignored it. For nearly year. Until a weird week on women’s health. I had the usual experience of having my period (cue: hot flushes, chills, dizziness, inability to concentrate, tearfulness, and aforementioned Sx) but with the bizarre complication of simultaneously sitting in on consults listening to female patients describe in detail exactly how I felt. I mentioned this to my hospital partner who looked at me like I was crazy and suggested I go to a gynaecologist. Now.

Then I used the stupid referral. It had gathered dust and I made the appointment exactly 2 days before it would have run out.

The gynaecologist is lovely. Despite looking disconcertingly like George Costanza. We got intimate with the transvaginal ultrasound (not my first time so am a totally natural with the small talk) and he explained my pelvic pathology to me on the screen (because people do that when you’re a medical student…even when sometimes you want to just be a patient). He does lots of infertility cases and other obs/gyne things but his ‘favourite disease’ is endometriosis. Which is awesome because it’s my favourite too I have it.

Sooooo on George Constanza’s advice I booked in for a laparoscopy + diathermy. Feeling very strange about going into surgery having done my surgery term. It’s not just a list of distant unimaginable risks to me when I read the consent form because I know what the procedure looks like. I’ve seen them blow up stomachs with CO2. Seen them put people under. Seen the slack-jawed vulnerable look on unconscious faces.

What the consent form should say is:

Are you cool with getting naked, hopping up on a bed, having us knock you out with gas, shoving a tube down your throat, taping it to your mouth and then taping heaps of sheets to you, shoving some cameras and metal instruments in your gut, blowing your gut up with CO2 so we can see better with our camera, and then using a little burny torch thing to fry off all the pesky ectopic tissue off your bowel, sacral uteroligaments, ovaries and what not?  It’s totally cool though, we do it all the time. We’ll probably be talking about our weekends or what was on TV last night while we do it. We’ll try not to let you die, or cut off your ovaries while we do it. Rarely happens. Yup? Cool.

Sign here.

I kept thinking “oh, but this is where I tell YOU about the risks. I’m supposed to be sitting behind that desk…wha?”

Being a patient is WEIRD.

*taking three consecutive packets of active pills, and skipping the inactive, thus not having a period during that time. 

**like, actually batshit crazy. Think Exorcist. Followed by lots of apologising. 

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8 Responses to “On being a patient”

  1. Allison Says:

    Best of luck with this, it must be difficult to go from watching the surgeries to be the patient. Makes me feel like a bit of an idiot for complaining about repeating some anatomy next year because real people >> cadavers.

    • C Says:

      Thanks Allison. It’ll be a weird role reversal. (oh and trust me, lots of people would complain about having to repeat ANY anatomy 🙂 totally normal)

  2. Allison Says:

    *being. gah. sorry. I hate grammatical errors.

  3. jazziefizzle Says:

    Ahh I hope it all works out ok miss – hopefully none of your colleagues will be on general surgery for that one :P. I think that med students can be the best (interested) and the worst patients at the same time, we are definitely very judgemental of the docs (I know I am)…

    I suppose it might be a bit of a weird but valuable learning experience… glad you eventually followed up that referral xx

    • C Says:

      Thanks Jaz. Am feeling very hypocritical about wanting to ask my dr if its okay to have no students…eek. But its not at our uni hospital, and not til after exams so hopefully it’ll be noone I know…ahh and if it I’ll just ask them how nice my insides look I guess? haha 🙂

  4. *C Says:

    Yep, I’ve already thought about the how I’d feel if I even need surgery, right down to the detail of what I do or don’t want to happen to me if I need to go to ICU…

    BUT…

    I also had endometriosis and had it magically fixed… and it is magic. You don’t even realise how much the pain, the nausea, the diarrhoea, the cramping, and did I mention the pain? …how it all effects you until it’s gloriously gone.

    I know it’s not such a success story for everyone, but I think it’s worth a try.

    Good luck.

    PS. And you know you can request that no students are in the theatre with you?

    • C Says:

      C, by magical fix do you mean diathermy? The prospect of it being gone is quite exciting. Am focussing on that instead of the “ugh surgery” aspect. Will definitely be requesting no students. Which is SO un-studenty of me. But meh.

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