Note: I never thought I’d be sharing this publicly, but in light of a recent event, I am called to do so.
Good care, whether physical, medical, psychological or spiritual, is important for maintaining one’s well-being. Long gone are the days of the old New England doctor that knows and forms a relationship with the entire family and makes house calls. Yet medically, while we have made progress in disease recognition (but I call foul on some of those infomercials trying to sell us sickness) and management, it seems like we’re in a futuristic dark age. Between issues with for-profit health insurers, politics and a growing lack of empathy and good communications skills as a society, getting quality medical care can be really hard to find. Compounding that further, my experience has been that it’s not easy to find competent and compassionate medical care for the challenging issues women face later in life.
When I found Christine some years ago I knew I had hit the jackpot! She was the first medical professional to ask me a very important question that, in retrospect, should be asked of every woman during her annual wellness exam.
“Are you OK?”
I was not. I was never OK during the invasive part of the exam. As a childhood sexual abuse survivor with PTSD, I dread it. But I’m an adult so I wince, grimace and silently bear it. Even so, there are medical procedures I will not subject myself to because of the associated triggers.
I cried as I told her why I was so uncomfortable. I had never discussed my PTSD with a doctor, only my counselor. She was so compassionate and I told her how ashamed I felt. She worked through that with me and encouraged me to allow her to add PTSD to my chart.
I was against it. I didn’t want to be labelled or be misunderstood. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself in that way. I just wanted to get through the exam for another year.
“I feel ashamed.”
“I should be past this by now. I’m a trained counselor. I’ve been through counseling. Yet this stupid PTSD sh*t is still here. I feel weak and defective.”
She listened and I cried as I spoke. Those doctor’s room tissues sure are rough on the nose! She explained that putting PTSD in my medical record will help alert other medical professionals so that they will be aware and sensitive to it. They (in theory) will treat me with more care, not less.
I felt such a sense of relief having had that conversation and I agreed. Yes. I have PTSD and would like to be treated with sensitivity. No, that does not make me weak. (Of course I would never judge another woman in my position as harshly as I had been judging myself. In fact, I would offer her support!)
Christine treated me like I was her only patient when I saw her. When I had a cancer scare and needed a pelvic ultrasound (Wayne came with me for support) she left the a message on my voicemail that Friday around 5:30.
“I just had to call you so you didn’t worry all weekend. Your results are normal!”
She did not chide me for not wanting to go the traditional medical route for some physical issues women at my age face. We talked through my anxieties about age-related (painful, intrusive) cancer screening tests for women 50 and over.
The thing is, I hadn’t worked through all of them, so when I saw my primary care provider for my routine physical, he mentioned that I was overdue.
“I’m going to talk to Christine first, but when I tried to make an appointment they said she was away for a month.”
“Definitely see her when she gets back.”
I called a month later and was told that she is on an extended leave, maybe until early winter! I was asked if I wanted to see someone else. I really did not, but begrudgingly agreed. It was not a good experience at all. She was relatively new out of med school and was puzzled by my questions. It was physically painful. When I said as much she continued. I felt violated and decided I would see Christine as soon as she got back. Was I overreacting? No! Christine taught me to speak up for myself, and I did! Sadly I’ve learned that it doesn’t always make a difference.
Yesterday I received a letter from the doctor’s office. I will never see her again. Christine, who has given so much to me and all of her patients, has passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 53.
I needed to share the gift she gave me here in hopes that I can pass it along to others in her memory.