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Humans, not Heroes


Similar to air travel, hospital appointments are best if they are uneventful. Flying is a relief when it is boring and nothing goes wrong. I’m not looking for a fantastic, first class experience when I step into a hospital. I only want things to go fairly smoothly and to be okay. Okay is my standard here.

I want to talk about ordinary appointments in health care. These ordinary appointments don’t cause any emotional harm and the physical harm is minimized as much as possible. Most appointments are just regular ones. Patients mostly talk about experiences that were exceptional or one that went really badly. My book is chock full of both. Nobody talks about the average ole appointment - and sadly, nobody asks patients about their appointments either. There are learnings in the ordinary.

Perhaps there would be less stress on health care folks if they strived for ordinary instead of perfect. Aiming for perfect seems to put a lot of pressure on clinicians to be superheroes every single time. I don’t want my caregivers to be heroes. I want them to be human instead.

Today I had one of my regular cancer scans. There’s a convoluted tale about how my appointments were scheduled, cancelled, scheduled, cancelled and scheduled again because of COVID and how this diagnostic scan is five months late. I understand it is a gong show in cancer care because of COVID. My only request is that cancer hospitals would be more proactive with telling us what is happening and why, instead of me having to spend hours on the phone chasing down my appointments. I believe that most patients would be understanding of the COVID situation if you only communicated with us instead of leaving us in the dark.

Despite this blip, my imaging appointment was uneventful. It was a boob-squishing mammogram (8 times squish the boob, ouch) so I wasn’t looking forward to the discomfort and pain. My husband and son drove me to the hospital and dropped me off so I didn’t have to fight through Vancouver rush hour traffic alone. (I wasn’t allowed any visitors to come in with me. I didn’t want my family sitting in a germy hospital anyhow, so that’s fine). I was early so I walked around the block a couple of times and practiced my calm breathing through my mask.

This was my first time in a hospital since the pandemic. Two screeners were at the door and asked me all the regular COVID questions. I wasn’t keen on taking the elevator, so I asked where the stairs were. One of the screeners escorted me to the stairwell.

I’ve been to the hospital many times before, so I knew the drill. Check in was quick and I took my spot in the waiting room. There was another lady there, so I smiled underneath my mask and said hello. The lights were dim. Soft pop music was playing. Many of the seats were blocked off with a sign so patients didn’t sit too close together. There were many COVID signs in a bunch of different languages taped to the walls. Most staff walking around in the halls were wearing masks, which made me feel safe.

A mammogram tech came out and introduced herself by name and showed me into a little room so I could change into my gown. ‘Did you wear deodorant?’ she asked me and luckily I remembered not to. I still don’t get why you can’t wear deodorant because nobody has explained it to me, but whatever.