Tunnel Vision

September 13, 2006 at 1:50 pm (Uncategorized)

I had an interesting encounter with a radiologist yesterday. In case you haven’t enjoyed my broad spectrum of medical encounters, I’ll just clue you in that “interesting” and “radiologist” are two words you never want to have in the same thought, much less experience.

I will be the first to admit that I enter any medical situation with my hackles up. I’m like my old dog Calypso, who ruffed up a mohawk of fur along her back anytime she smelled a whiff of anything suspicious. I’ve been to too many appointments, had too many needles stuck in me, and had too many MRIs, surgeries, spinal taps, and heart catherizations, to blandly go along with whatever the health care professionals have dreamed up for me.

Yesterday I drove the two hours to Missoula to have an MRI of the shoulder I wrenched in a roll-over car accident a couple of months ago. I was on time for my appointment, even though I had to climb a mountain pass and contend with fire-fighting equipment on the highway. I then had to wait nearly an hour and half in a plushly furnished waiting room before being escorted into the bowels of the hospital for an injection of contrast dye into my shoulder joint.

Once I disrobed and clad myself in that ultimate of degrading costumes – the scanty hospital gown – I had to wait for the radiologist, who had to use some type of X-ray fluoroscopy to pinpoint the location in my shoulder for the dye to be injected.

Dr. Radiologist, whose name I never learned, was apparently quite the busy guy. So busy, in fact, that after making me wait about two hours for his expertise, he couldn’t spare the two minutes to introduce himself and explain the procedure. Instead, two tech minions saw to it that I signed the necessary legal documents protecting Dr. Radiologist and his hospital from damages. Then they arranged me on my stomach, with my face buried in a pillow, my ass up in the air, and my breasts akimbo. Then, and only then, when it was impossible for me to even see his face, did Dr. Radiologist appear and proceed to jam a large bore needle into my shoulder joint.

In the grand scheme of medical woes, being deprived of dignity in such a limited way as this is a small one. When I mentioned to Dr. Radiologist that most other doctors allow their patients to interact first with them as human beings on equal footing, rather than immediately being splayed like a beached walrus on the bed, he seemed genuinely puzzled. “I’m sorry we offended you,” he said. It’s not that he offended me. Rather he reduced me – to slab of flesh, a knob of shoulder attached to an otherwise irrelevant body. If this experience was a one-off for me, if I didn’t have a chronic illness that requires frequent and invasive testing, I’m sure it would have annoyed me, but it would not have chafed as much as it did. It’s just that I am too accustomed to being distilled down to my disease. It’s precisely because I spend a great deal of my time with doctors and submitting to the tests they order that I feel such a need to be treated as a whole person – not just disembodied lungs, heart, shoulder, whatever.

The people who administered the MRI were solicitous. Perhaps they caught wind that a “problem patient” was in the tube. Or maybe they just genuinely regretted having to smash my sore arm into unusual angles so they could scan the shoulder and the torn triceps area. When the hour-and-a half-scan was over, I emerged from the thudding and wheezing of the MRI machine to find a $25 gift card for a chain of local gas stations on top of the hospital-issued clothes plastic bag for my clothes. “What’s this?” I asked, holding the card. “That’s from us, to let you know that we appreciate you,” the tech said. “Wow, thank you,” was all I could come up with as a response at the time, but on the long drive home through the dusk, I thought that perhaps I should have said that it was respect, not appreciation, that I needed, and that by giving me a cash card for gasoline, I almost felt more sullied by the experience. But I’m learning that there’s little to do when a doctor or a hospital upsets you. It’s better to move on. And who can argue with a free tank of gas?

1 Comment

  1. Paul said,

    Hi Rebecca

    Unbelieveable – or should I say it would be if it wasn’t so typical

    Did they find anything on the MRI to make it worth the effort?

    Have a better day today


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