I pretended to read my magazine, but I could feel the lady across the waiting room observing me intently. She was trying to figure out what my Hospital ID said…was I a doctor here? Was I a patient here? Was I visiting a family member? It made me feel a little unsure about my place in the waiting room of my physician.
Last time I felt this awkwardness dates back to my Intern year & my very first Code Blue. I was the first one at the Code and I felt awkward telling the much more experienced nurses what to do, after all I was just the Intern. Furthermore, it was my first week at the job! I was not confident in my own skin & identity. Today, I felt a bit the same.
I had purposely left my white coat in our office because I did not want to play the role of a doctor. It was time for me to be the patient. However, I carried my ID (unknowingly) and it added more weight than I had expected. The thing about doctors is that they are terrible patients. I admit it! It begs the question…why?
If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Have you heard this theory? It is very popular among children. The idea is that if I don’t face my shortcomings in health on a routine basis, I can go on pretending that my health is perfect. Physicians do not have time to see their own physician because that requires a multitude of scheduling maneuvers between the patients, the physician, the other physician, and the almighty luck. So, we instead treat ourselves for minor complaints, or we curbside our colleagues, or we just delay that appointment (the good old – I have a sick patient I have to care for). My observation is that when other busy professions can make time for their doctors’ appointments, can physicians make a much more concerted effort to care for themselves as well?
I am not sick! I know that I have to cut back on my sugar but I am not sick! Sounds familiar? To me, sounds like some of my patients who have a tough time coming to terms with being “labeled” with an illness. It is usually because labeling reflects a deep vulnerability. I admit that sitting in the waiting room, as I was being watched, made me feel vulnerable. I felt that somehow I was letting my patients down by not being an all-star, Xena-like, physician… a physician with perfect physical and mental health. Patients do not ask me whether I am healthy or whether I follow my own advice. I subconsciously ask that of myself. The “labeling” is more jolting to me than it would be to my patients. I am sure if I told my patient that I forgot take my medications today, they would not think less of me as a physician. In fact, we might even form a pact to reach our goals together. But to achieve that, I have to keep myself anchored to the idea that I am not Xena. I am a human. And just like every other human, I will have health concerns that need to be addressed timely.
So, my advice to all the fellow Xena-like or Hercules-like physicians out there – be real with yourself and go see your primary care physician. Be proud as you wait in the reception area because you are setting a good example for your patients. After all, sometimes the best medicine is the one that comes for your doctor (and not you).