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Communication 101 for Healthcare Providers - A Primer

Once I was waiting in a crowded city waiting room, in the paralyzing dread of my upcoming amniocentesis.  These were the days before trigger warnings.  I just sat there waiting, knowing there was a modest risk ahead and weighing how long it had taken me to conceive. Then the receptionist shouted across the room: Mary Jo Tucker, your sonogram was positive for xyz...  Every woman sat up.  The woman was about to get tragic news and now the whole waiting room knew it.  I once said to a doctor how about I start a support group in the waiting room, for all those infertility people struggling with bad news?  

My other pet-peeve is honey/sweetie/dear when you don't even know me or why I'm there.  If I lost ten pounds, you could call me sweetie.  Then: you put me in a windowless room, shut the door, make me wear a too small inside/out gown and freeze while hours go by.  Or the endless hedging, like when my mother was dying, and the doctor said, "Everything's gonna be alright." It wasn't.  Or when my husband almost died after surgery and I had to run through the hospital to gather his team of doctors myself.  Another time the nurse left and just shook her head while looking at the screen.  

Are they doing this just to women?  "Calm down and you'll get pregnant 1,2,3."  Or I feel pain, bloat and headaches, weak, tired, anxious.  OK you're likely drug-seeking, or you're lazy or just plain stupid.  How many times have you been dismissed for something very real indeed.  (A year later, it all pointed to thyroid).

Some doctors will prescribe an antidepressant, others not.  So you're down to a toss-up. Get immediate help from a trained, caring professional, or move to the back of the fragmented line. There's no one-stop shopping in medicine.  Urgent care might have been a fine idea before.  Then it lost its allure.  Long lines and randomized chaos during Covid took over that venture.  

Nurses of course are a whole different breed.  Some of the best people I've ever met in my life are nurses.  People who are literally the salt of the earth.  They have helped me, my family and my clients in countless small and big ways.  But in the pandemic they suffered terrible loss/sadness/grief/burnout.  Where are they now?  For mental health nurses can be life savers.  Not to discredit some fine, outstanding doctors.  But could we re-think the benefits and compensations for people who do this work day in and day out? More incentives to come out of college debt free for nurses and social workers so we can do the work we were called to do without the crushing burden of loans?

Doctors are leaving by the droves.  According to JAMA, one in five are leaving their practices. Covid burnout is cited as the number one reason.  They said, 

"Another national health care worker survey, the Coping With COVID study, found that burnout approached 50% in 2020 among 9266 physicians across medical disciplines. Last year’s survey results, which haven’t been published yet, are more dire still, according to study coauthor Mark Linzer, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota whose research focuses on burnout. His takeaway: burnout has increased considerably as the pandemic has dragged on."

Our culture is shifting in any number of ways away from care toward robotic scenes from dystopian movies.  Greed and violence and guns and teen suicide are looming: history repeats.  Why don't we do something of substance.  Now.


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