Since I’m handing out advice right and left (I think I’ve run out of intern advice, though; maybe next year I’ll have some things to say about annoying interns, of whom I’m sure I’ve been one), maybe I’ll throw out some for patients.
Although really these are more anecdotes about my favorite patients. Out of the whole year, I think my favorite, and best memory, is this one old gentleman who learned my name pat the first time I introduced myself. After that, every time I walked into the room (usually at 5am), his eyes would literally light up. “Dr. Alice! Thank you for coming! It’s so good to see you!” I was almost embarassed to be there, because here I was waking him up, and I hadn’t done a blessed thing for him yet, and he was so happy about it. Actually, I think it started because one of the first days I came to see him, his wound dressing had gotten all disarranged, and he was worrying that when the nurse finally came to change it, it would hurt a lot. I needed to see the wound for myself, so I just changed it quickly and fairly painlessly. Since then, although he kept coming back in with complications, he was always so cheerful and grateful that everyone loved talking to him.
Then there was another lady, who had what you might call a chronic hospital course. She’d stay for a few weeks, go home, come back in less time than it took her to leave, and stay a while longer. When I got signout about her, changing services, I got the phrase “pain issues,” which usually indicates a drug seeker that people have gotten tired of dealing with. For the first couple of days, that seemed to be all there was to it. She had had a lot of surgeries, which resulted in a lot of pain. She’d spent enough time in the hospital to be fairly tolerant to narcotics. But then I started to realize that if I came to talk to her at the times when she wasn’t in as much pain, she was a very nice lady. She wasn’t defeated by all that had happened to her. She worked hard with the physical therapists, and could be often found up moving around by herself. Finally, I realized that she had the same goals we did: despite her complaints of pain, more than anything else she wanted to move away from iv narcotics, and get out of the hospital and back to being independent. At that point it became easy, and she and I worked together as a team to wean down the doses.
Basically, don’t make the doctors and nurses afraid to come in your room. The people who smile when they can, say thank you every now and then, and speak politely, will have nurses come quickly when they call for help, and doctors who come to check on them frequently, and are willing to spend a while discussing plans and alternatives; whereas the patients who make it unpleasant to come into their room will get much more grudging service all around. Unfortunate, and despicably human on our part, but there it is. A little politeness will go a long way towards making your hospital stay smoother and a little more pleasant.