When I was actively practicing law, I moved among different courthouses, different counties, and different levels of the legal system. In some scenarios, attorneys would show up to cover for another attorney or somehow otherwise didn’t know what their client(s) looked like. Because of this, it was not uncommon for the lawyer to then quietly or loudly begin to say the name of their client. A dear friend was often selected for his booming voice that was clearly heard above the other noise in the courthouse lobby. Once the client(s) and the attorneys were connected, then the preparation for the hearing or other event in the case could commence.
And while I always wondered a little about how the clients felt about their name being broadcast, it drove home that there was someone that anchored that client to the legal process, they had a representative there to help them, even if that person was a visual stranger. Typically, unless a hearing was covered by another attorney, after that first meeting where the lawyer and client didn’t know each other, the subsequent hearings typically go more smoothly, or at least there wasn’t the issue at the beginning in terms of finding one another.
And then fast forward to becoming a forever patient.
While I do sometimes see the same nurses and assistants at the cancer center, it is typically a person that I don’t recognize when I arrive at the infusion center. When I check in, I’m not only given a tag that allows the cancer center to track me wherever I am in the building, I’m also given a bracelet with my name and other important information on it. I’ve never fully understood why I get a different identification number and a different account number for every time I walk in the building for an appointment — for someone like me, who is present there so often, they are definitely losing money on that!
But, I digress.
Usually, a nurse or medical assistant calls out the name of a person when they come to get the patient for infusion, much like the attorneys in my example above. Much of the time, since we are often given a buzzer that lights up when they need us, the patient comes to the nurse even before they call out the name.
But something different happened when I went to the infusion floor for my treatment the other day. A medical assistant/nurse, walked around, without saying a word, looking at everyone’s bracelets. She made no eye contact, she said nothing, she just walked up, grabbed each of our wrists, rotated the bands, as necessary, and walked off. Once she had made the rounds of the waiting patients, she left.
At first, I didn’t even really pay attention, just lifted my wrist for her to look at it when she approached me and kept waiting for my appointment. And then I started thinking about how disrespectful it was for an employee to walk up and take whatever information she needed without telling us what was going on. Perhaps she didn’t have the ability to tell us what was going on, perhaps HIPAA prevented her from sharing, but to simply take without explanation is to undermine the dignity of the patients waiting for their appointment.
And so, when it happened again at my next appointment, I was the person who said, hi, my name is Abigail, what do you need? The woman became so flustered by just that sentence. She couldn’t even answer me, probably because no one spoke to her since she didn’t speak to us. Then, another employee came over and they together explained that she was checking to make sure that no one waited too long. Since that’s what the tags are for, I asked pressed them. If something is happening with electronics, why are there manual checks as well?
They didn’t have an answer and then my name was called by a medical assistant to take me back for my treatment. I didn’t see those ladies again when I left. And, I didn’t make note of their names at all, especially at least one of the ladies didn’t have her name tag turned properly so that I could read their names.
I am aware that there are rules at my cancer center that require the staff to have their name tags turned so that a patient can read them, that they are supposed to make eye contact, and they are supposed to announce or explain what they are doing before they do it. While these things may seem like common courtesy, this experience of mine demonstrates that the rules are necessary.
And yet, even I complied when all those rules were broken the first time.
I think there is a certain amount of autonomy and freedom we willingly give up by going to get treatment from any medical establishment. We acknowledge by walking through the door that the medical professionals know more than we do. That trust, that reliance, that action should be rewarded with the medical system treating us like people, with dignity.
It should be.
And yet, it usually isn’t, by the system.
The American medical system is built on the idea that doctors know better than patients, that we must be compliant, that we must submit to the almighty doctors who know best. The system is built on this idea. Many of the people within that system don’t behave that way, but some do.
Those of us who need medical care, we are the consumers, the customers, the ones who hold the purse strings. It is incumbent upon us to speak up, to raise issues, and to remind everyone we come into contact with that we are still people. Yes, as a patient, we need help. Yes, the medical system has some of the answers for us. Yes, we need those answers.
But no person is infallible and no medical system has the answers.
We must work together to find the answers, as a team. I’ve shown over and over and over to the cancer center where I go that I’m a member of their team. I bring all the information that my doctors need and share willingly. I give feedback any time they need it and sometimes when they don’t ask for it. I’m always looking for ways to improve the experience on all sides.
And my reward is to continue to be treated as less than a person.
I have a name.
I am a person.
Treat me like a person.