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Doctor as Patient: A View from the Other Side of the Bed

About 1:50 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14, I had a near fatal automobile accident. Fortunately, no one was killed (particularly me), but I did experience a fracture of the sternum and lots of soft tissue aches and pains. Seatbelts save lives.

As expected, and as appreciated, the first responder paramedics were on top of the situation. I had a ride in an ambulance with lights and siren. And I was admitted to a local hospital for 72 hours.

I had never previously been hospitalized in more than seven decades.

Not Your Typical Patient

Although I was not the typical patient, I recognize the privilege that came accompanied me in the door because of my affiliation with Mayo Clinic. Yet I have some observations to share with you so that you can become an empowered patient too. [The next time I revise my current book on patient empowerment, I have some new material to add as a side benefit from this experience. See How NOT to Be My Patient on Amazon.]

  • I want to know who is running the show. Who is the quarterback orchestrating my fate? Make sure the healthcare team tells you who is in charge. Ask. I want to know the treatment plan, and I want to hear it from the resident or attending physician or hospitalist. I was blessed that I had a quarterback who took charge. Not a committee, not a focus group, but one human being. Write down that person’s name and know how to contact them.

  • Tell me what tests and studies are scheduled and how they are conducted. Never having had an MRI of my head, I appreciated that the technicians clearly explained the noise, the drumming sound as well as the physical vibration while I was inside the machine. They also said the procedure would take at least an hour. It did. But I was glad to know all this ahead of time so I could get in the zone. Everything worked out fine. Ask before someone sticks you inside or in front of a machine or starts to open needles and instruments.


I was reassured that in the MRI tube I would receive verbal instructions about breathing and positioning. However I had to remove my hearing aids and was really unable to follow directions. This was not a big deal but one of those nuisances that had to be recognized.


  • Who are you and what are you doing to me? As a medical person, I get it that blood needs to be drawn, that blood pressure needs to be taken, that machines are beeping and buzzing throughout the night. I understand why vital signs are necessary. But make it clear to the hospital staff that you want all the tests to be done at the same time within reason, instead of waking you every hour for one thing or another.


I was pleased that every human with whom I came into contact with carefully introduced themselves by name and told me what their role was. (“Hello, Dr. Creagan, I am Alice, your nurse for this shift. I’d like to rearrange these IV tubes and blood pressure cuffs.”) It was comforting to know that my wrist band was scanned and I was repeatedly asked my name and date of birth. Getting the right medicine into the right patient at the right time and for the right reason is always essential. You should be observant too.


  • Feed me. For me, with no dietary restrictions, I was able to review a menu, and a dietary representative came into the hospital room to discuss the selections. Okay, it wasn’t a high-end luxury hotel, but I felt my dietary needs were addressed well. You can ask to see the dietary staff.


  • Write it down. Hospital staff need to recognize that the patient has lost control, the patient is anxious and sleep-deprived. I am convinced the IQ plummets with each day in the hospital. When appropriate and reasonable, ask staff assigned to you to write things down for you and your family on some type of whiteboard. Many hospital rooms have these. Date, day of the week, special instructions, names of staff on that shift, when tests are scheduled.


  • Everyone wants to be recognized. Ask the provider, the nurse, the technician about themselves: Where are you from? How long is your shift? How do you feel after working 12 or 13 hours? Most hospitals have escort services that wheelchair us patients from room to test and to the next test. In my particular situation these escorts might walk 20 to 22 miles a day. These essential staffers or volunteers are how this hospital machine works. Talk to the person who draws your blood or delivers your meal.

These are guardian angels, people of compassion and courage and caring who show up, who are present, and who really reach out under some very difficult and potentially lethal circumstances. While most of the world doesn’t care that you feel lousy or that bills need to be paid or the dog fed, hospital staff put the “care” in caring. This is not a slogan. This is a visceral, granular part of their DNA.

As for me, I was glad to get home to my own bed and dogs and wife, a quiet environment without tubes and cuffs, no more prodding and probing, but grateful for a medical care system that works. I’m doing well, thank you.


Media from Wix.


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1 Comment

bob carr
bob carr
May 29

Best wishes for a speedy and problem-free recovery.

As always, your writing conveys the wise thoughts of a wise man.

What is routine and conventional for medical staff is many times a completely new experience for the patient.

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