In the 6th grade I wanted to star in a musical on Broadway. My favorite music at the time were the soundtracks to “Annie” and “The Sound of Music.” This continued on for many years until I realized that some sort of musical and/or theatrical talent would be required for that dream to come true. One memory I have from that time of my life is my Jr. High drama class. Mrs. Means had us do monologues. My favorite one to do was to recite Charles Finn’s poem “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying.” It was written in 1966 and I remember feeling so cool memorizing and reciting it because it was so dramatic and thought provoking. The poem is about wearing masks; fooling people into thinking you are OK. Part of the poem is below.
I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that’s really nothing,
and nothing of what’s everything,
of what’s crying within me.
So when I’m going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I’m saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying,
what I’d like to be able to say,
what for survival I need to say,
but what I can’t say.
Sometimes as a physician I feel like my patients walk in wearing masks. Part of my job is to read between the lines. To figure out what my patient isn’t saying. To ask the right questions to find out the real reason why they’re here, where the fears lie, where the focus needs to be. Sometimes I don’t know what someone is really worried about until the very end of the visit when I get the “oh and one more thing…” That’s usually the most important thing. Sometimes when you walk into a patient’s room you can just tell that there’s something more going on. It’s a challenge to discover what it is and try and help them through it.
I get to care for a lot of wonderful people. Some of them I meet for the first time when they walk into my office. Some of them I have known for many years before they come to me for OB or Gyn care. But some of my favorite people to care for are the patients that know me…but I don’t know them. The patients that at the end of the visit tell me that their fiancé is someone I know or their mom is my patient or they know my husband, my family, etc. These patients have taught me a lot. It goes something like this. Me: “Is there anything else you need or that I can address for you today?” Them: “No, but just so you know I am married to so and so and they know you from such and such.” Me: “Oh, how cool!” Because they walked in the door as an “unknown” I treated them like any other patient I didn’t know. I didn’t make assumptions about what they needed, how they felt, or hold any bias or belief about them. And they have taught me to do the same thing for all my patients, even the ones I have seen for many years.
So, when you enter your doctor’s office, whether it’s your gynecologist, your cardiologist, your psychiatrist or your family physician…take off your mask. Attempt to be fully honest. Tell your doctor what it is that worries you the most, what you need the most, what you’re looking for. While I won’t promise that we as physicians will have the answer or be able to give you what you want I can promise that we will be honest with you in return. We will tell you what we can and can’t do…what we know in medicine to be true and what we just don’t know about your disease yet. We will try to relieve your anxiety and your suffering.
This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday. At our church we assembled to hear how we could be shaped and transformed during the season of Lent. At the end of the service we receive the imposition of ashes. The ashes are placed as a symbol, a reminder, that we are a broken people in need of a redeeming Savior. It’s hard to ignore a giant smudge of oily ash on someone’s forehead. As awkward as it may seem, it’s kind of nice. You don’t need to ask someone if they went to an Ash Wednesday service. It’s clearly visible. How would we feel if our most urgent needs were smudged on our forehead for the healers in our life to see. Maybe we can all make an attempt to be more transparent. In the doctor’s office and with each other. I hope the next time you visit the doctor you remember my 6th grade dream to be on Broadway and Charles Finn’s poem and do your best to be transparent.
photo credit to zach lucero.