Whether someone suffers from chronic pain or not, I feel it is safe to assume that most people see their doctors for two reasons. The first is to stay healthy, and the second is to find answers and get well. The last thing we expect is to leave that appointment physically feeling 10X worse than we did when we arrived. I expect to physically feel worse if I have the flu, bronchitis, etc..…. I also expect to experience some additional physical pain from my chronic conditions. But even then, the level of exhaustion is nothing compared to what I endure from regular checkups of my chronic conditions.
After 15 years of living with my chronic conditions, I have been able to pinpoint what makes these appointments so unbearable. The cause is the time I spend waiting to see my doctor past my appointment time. There is no excuse for making patients wait 45-60 minutes past their appointment time in the waiting room. I understand that emergencies happen or that the doctor may need more time with another now and again. However, this seems to be common practice for some doctors, and the only excuse they have is overbooking patients and not allowing enough time for their visits.
I was fortunate that when I lived in Arizona, most of my doctors were excellent about getting patients into the exam room in a timely manner. Even if a problem arose and I had to wait, being in the exam room allowed me to lie down and rest. While tiring, no matter how little or long I had to wait, it never took me weeks to recover from the additional fatigue or pain.
My first four years in California were another story. Each physician kept me waiting in their waiting room for 30-60 minutes past my appointment time. In most instances, they also kept me waiting for an additional 20-40 minutes after entering the exam room.
I wish my complaint about waiting to be seen was just about waiting. But it is so much more than that. I feel that by making us wait for so long to be seen, our physicians show a lack of understanding or compassion about our chronic conditions. And here is why:
- We are already pushing our physical limits by bathing, getting dressed, and traveling to their offices. We push harder than we may typically push ourselves as we acknowledge and respect that our doctor’s time is limited. If we, the patients, are willing to endure additional fatigue and physical pain to be on time, why can’t doctors have the same respect for our time? By the time I arrive for an appointment, I am worn out.
- The longer I wait, the higher my pain level rises. I may enter my doctor’s office with an average (for me) pain level. Yet, after waiting for an eternity to be escorted into the exam room, my pain spikes to a level that no one should ever have to experience. At this point, I am either fighting back the tears or crying and/or my pain level may cause my blood pressure to elevate. This creates a non-issue that later takes a chunk of my doctor’s few minutes for me during my exam. In my case, my blood pressure only escalates when I am in severe pain, and I continue to push myself harder than I should. Some doctors recognize this and are able to move on from that topic, while others obsess about it, and we never get around to discussing what I really need to discuss.
- This higher pain level makes answering the nurse’s questions harder than it should be. Between Fibro fog and brain pain, it’s a miracle when I am able to state my name and birthdate. While experiencing higher pain levels, my brain and mouth don’t always work together. I may know what to say but am unable to articulate it, or I just draw a blank.
- If I am lucky, the time spent waiting in the exam room won’t be too long. No matter how long I have to wait at this point, the damage is done. It doesn’t matter how well I prepare for the appointment. My lists of concerns, questions, and new developments are useless when my doctor is rushing me through my appointment by rapidly firing questions at me and expecting immediate answers. When a doctor doesn’t keep me waiting past my appointment time in the waiting room, my lists are a great help. Not waiting that additional time makes it easier for me to keep track of what he is asking and what is left on the list that I must discuss before the appointment ends. When my physician is on time, I am able to remain calm, respond to his questions, understand what he is saying, and ask questions of my own.
During one appointment in which I wasn’t led into the exam room until an hour after my appointment time and then had to wait an additional 40 minutes for my doctor to come in, we ended up in an argument. While timely when I first began to see him, running behind quickly became his norm. This physician allotted 15 minutes for each of his patients, and because of this, I always arrived prepared with my lists. Instead of starting the appointment by going over my lists, he began obsessing over past lab work that he said was fine during my last appointment. I repeatedly tried to interrupt and remind him that he had said nothing was wrong with those tests. Ten minutes into the appointment and I finally had enough. I abruptly cut him off mid-sentence and said that unless those lab tests had anything to do with the reason I was there, he needed to stop discussing them and listen to me. He then had the audacity to remind me that we only had a few minutes left!!!!! Needless to say, he wasn’t happy when I pointed out that he was the one wasting my time. I left without answers and in more pain than I could have ever imagined. I also left with a mission to find a new doctor. It took weeks to physically recover from that appointment. The emotional stress was just as detrimental to my health as the physical stress was.
One reason my pain escalates so intensely while I wait to see the doctor is that I prefer not to medicate for pain prior. Both pharmaceutical pain medications and medical marijuana may cause me to get sidetracked or forget to mention what I really want to discuss. When I am seeing a doctor, I want to be aware of each pain and its intensity. Another reason I don’t like treating my pain before an appointment is that it skews or clouds my examination. When medicated, I can stand or sit longer than when not. This does not give my doctor a true picture of what is going on. Medicating prior may also dull a new pain, resulting in my forgetting to mention it.
Before I ramble on and on, let me get back to my point…. My point is this: If doctors would stop overbooking patients, we could be seen on time. Patients like me are more likely to be cooperative, pleasant, and easy to work with by being seen on time. Fewer things would be missed, fewer mistakes (like prescribing medications that your patient is allergic to) would be made, and the patient won’t need weeks to recover. Thankfully I have since changed healthcare plans, and my new physicians have yet to keep me waiting as long as all the others I had seen during my first four years in California. And instead of waiting weeks to return to my new normal, I am usually only knocked down for a few days. I expect and plan for this as I know how my body will react. But no one should have to plan on being bedridden for weeks just because of a routine doctor’s appointment. Because of this, I submit my own bill to any physician that keeps me waiting more than 15 minutes in the waiting room past my appointment time and/or if the wait in the exam room is equally long because my time is valuable. They are not only robbing me of the time I had to wait but also robbing my family and me of days and weeks that I may not have had to be stuck in bed. As I stated above, I understand that an emergency may arise, and in those cases, I can excuse tardiness, but not when it becomes a regular occurrence.
I have one request for physicians treating chronic pain patients: Please respect our time as we do yours by arriving on time.
A question for my chronically ill friends: Have you noticed a difference in your demeanor, pain level, patience, or overall quality level of your visit by how little or long you were kept waiting?
Wishing you a day filled with gentle hugs and smiles!
The Disabled Diva