Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 16, 2013

Susan Odgers: Manners called for when it comes to bedside manner

Local columnist

---- — This month I had to have some unexpected medical tests. Physically I haven’t felt well. I’ve also been afraid that these tests might confirm something life-threatening.

I arrive at the medical facility. No one greets me with “hello.” Instead, I receive an annoyed “yes?” I’m told they don’t have my paperwork. This, and, therefore me, are “wrong,” “strange.” I assure them that I registered over the phone and that the billing department knows who I am. They argue that I must be mistaken.

As they search for the orders, I’m not feeling confident and secure being there.

Next, I go to get undressed for the initial test and need my husband Tom’s help in the dressing room. Understandably, he’s not comfortable in the “women only” section. Nor are the other women at ease around him. When I ask if we can use a family dressing area, I’m advised that there isn’t one.

At this first test, I’m told, not asked, to do several things I can’t. “Hop up on the table” was one of them.

When I ask for a hydraulic table, like at my doctor’s office, I’m told there isn’t one. I’m also not asked what name I like to be called, what assistance I need to complete the test or how I want to be touched. I’m equally surprised when no one in the medical facility knows the basics of how my wheelchair operates and asks me “can you move that thing?”

As the test begins I can overhear employees in an adjoining room joking about patient “samples” and other personal patient information.

When I disclose to an employee at the next test that I’m fearful of having this test, he tells me all about his own health issues. By now I don’t want to be nice, chit-chat or take care of anyone employed here. I don’t have the energy to work this hard.

At the doorway of the room I’m in, two other employees are talking about their recent weekend full of overeating and drinking. One of the two prolongs the exchange with graphic details of his vomiting. Yet another employee sternly warns me that if my “inferior” veins, back, shoulders, breathing, etc. don’t cooperate, I’ll have to come back another day and start the process all over again.

In the next test area Tom is told to wait far from where I’ll be. We aren’t comfortable with this and when I protest, the employee insists and scolds us for being “unreasonable.” As I’m moved from one position to another, I look down at my hip and realize that somehow it’s been scraped and there’s a long red welt forming. My anxiety level keeps climbing. I’m struck by the reality that I need to advocate for myself at a time when I don’t feel well and am extremely vulnerable.

As soon as all of my tests are completed, an employee first tells me I can leave and then dramatically chases me through the facility telling me to stay to talk with the doctor.

By now, I’m totally spent. Before we’re out the door, I search for the comment forms.

Hanging high on the wall above my head, back in a corner, they’re out of my reach.

Susan Odgers, a resident of Traverse City for the past 26 years, has used a wheelchair for 37 years. She is a faculty member at Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University. She can be reached via the Record-Eagle.