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‘The Other Side of the Fence’ by Michael Corbo

11 Nov, 10 | by Deborah Kirklin

Medical student Michael Corbo reflects on what he’s learnt from being a patient.

I am sitting on a green chair in the waiting room. I have been sitting here for hours, but it feels like it has been days. I keep looking at the clock on the wall beside me. The room is filled with people, but all I can hear is the resounding ‘tick tock’ coming from my right side. A thousand beads of sweat start to develop on my forehead, one for every thought racing through my mind.

“Michael Corbo!” My heart stops. “The doctor is ready for you now.”

I follow the nurse’s lead to the end of the hall where we stop at Operating Room (OR) #7.

The air in the OR is cold and crisp. I get on the table and lie down with my face towards the ceiling. Cold sweat begins to drip down my forehead. It is clear that I am apprehensive and yet, none of the healthcare providers have addressed how I am feeling. My hand nervously shakes as a line is inserted into one of my veins. I take one more gasp of air before my eyes gently close and will not open again for at least thirty minutes.

This is an experience that I have been through many times. However, it is the first time that I am the patient. After such an event, it has become clear to me that no matter how minor the procedure, the thought of surgical intervention and going under general anaesthesia is enough to generate a great deal of worry.

As a patient who was evidently nervous going into surgery, the question “why didn’t any of the healthcare providers address my feelings?” was still on my mind hours after the operation. I kept trying to tell myself that this question was irrelevant since the surgery was a success. However, as time passed and perspective was gained, I realized that my concern was a legitimate one. In a profession where another human being completely places their trust in you, how can the physician provide the best care without truly understanding what the patient is experiencing?

Understandably, the thought of entering into an emotional relationship with patients can be a scary notion. However, all medical specialties should have a keen focus on developing these skills and recognizing the most appropriate time to utilize them. To only treat a patient’s physical needs is inadequate; a Holistic approach in which emotional, mental, and physical aspects are all addressed would lead to increased patient satisfaction and care. This is not a skill that comes naturally, but must be practiced and perfected.

As a future physician, I sincerely hope that more resources can be invested into teaching medical students and residents how to treat the patient like a person, instead of just an interesting case. At the end of the day, the majority of people will not remember how well you performed at your job, but rather the level of communication and hospitality that they received while they were under your care.

michael.corbo@medportal.ca

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  • Eva Hammershoey

    What you are saying in the last lines is understandable. As you will later experience, it can be very difficult to relate to patients year in and year out – in a personal, warm, empathic way – at the same time as you are handling a time schedule, your collegues, possible unsatisfaction with work conditions, your own insecurity, your skills, your fear of being late for this and that and your eagerness to get away from this patient that you might not like, wanting to get to another more interesting patient etc. etc.
    So, to my mind, it is a question of learning to handle all these counterstriking thoughts and concentrate on where and what – and this goes for both the patient and the doctor. A lot of people do not have communicative skills. It can be learned but the professional skill matters – the result of surgery matters, and people will remember long afterwards if you did not perform well.
    For many years doctors have been trained in communication, and it has helped, but it is also time to start training patients expectations and prepare them for the processes they will be going through.

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