This week’s Patchwork update comes courtesy of John Rich and his experiences coordinating the Sozo Health Ministry:
“I’m gonna drop that doctor. She’s not doing anything for me! Why should I keep going back to her when she doesn’t help me?” My passenger was angry, her body tense and her vocal volume rising.
“I hear you.” I empathized while trying to focus on navigating through traffic, “You’re still having pain and your other symptoms haven’t gotten any better. That sucks.”
“Yeah! So why should I keep going back if I’m not getting any better? I should just cancel this appointment!”
“Well, maybe you should get a second opinion or think about changing doctors. But let’s just keep this appointment today and see if there’s anything else the doctor can do for you. Do you still want to keep this appointment? I mean, we’re already driving there.”
Several expletive-laden grievances later, my passenger agrees to keep the appointment to which we are currently driving.
This is actually a fairly common conversation that I have with Sozo Health Ministry clients, often in the car on the way to the appointment.
People who are sick get frustrated. The pain literally grates their nerves. Symptoms don’t improve, or if they do, not as much as the patient had hoped. Constant pain and discomfort make people irritable, angry, and eventually hopeless. On top of all that, the person may be homeless, hungry, just broken up with a significant other, lost a job, been robbed, or experienced any number of other life stressors, and the trauma becomes overwhelming. It’s no wonder people stop going to their health care providers.
Sometimes, if they do go to an appointment when their emotional stamina is strained beyond the breaking point, they can lash out at their health care provider verbally or even physically and get banned. The emotional stress does not excuse their behavior, but it does lead to a situation where they have fewer and fewer health care options and are not getting the care they desperately need.
This is why the car ride to the doctor’s office is such an important part of the Sozo Health Ministry. If I can let people vent their frustrations, yell and curse at the doctor before the doctor is present, if I can empathize with them and defuse their anger, then they are much more likely to have a productive visit.
“Okay, so that new medication the doctor started you on is not helping at all?” I ask.
“Well, it’s helping a little.”
“Okay, that’s a start. I know they started you on a low dosage, so maybe they can increase it after this visit.”
“That might help.”
We go through the symptoms one by one as we drive. We make sure we know all the questions we’re going to ask. We find hope that maybe an increased dose or a new referral might help where other medical strategies have failed. We arrive at the doctor’s office. We get out of the car, check in, wait to get taken back, go back to the exam room, have the nurse take the vital signs and talk with us, wait a little while longer, and finally, when the doctor comes in, the patient smiles and says, “Hi, doc.” She is genuinely glad to be there.
We go through the appointment and discuss all the issues with the doctor. She increases a dosage here, adds a referral for a different kind of therapy there, and maybe orders a test or two just to be sure we have all the information we need. Afterward, I walk the patient out to the car. We get in and buckle our seat belts.
“So,” I say, “Do you still want to talk about changing doctors?”
“No, I like this doctor. I think these new things will help. I’ll stick with her.”