As America’s baby boomers blossom into late middle age, fifty or so, the US health care system will need to make a few changes to keep up with us. On turning fifty this year, I think I look and feel at least a little bit younger. It is startling to be called mam or asked if I would like the senior citizen’s discount. But at least when uttered with respect, I can withhold a sharp retort and realize that I, too, was once young.
Accompanying my aging parents and far too many of my middle aged friends to doctor’s appointments, “procedures”, and surgeries over the past year, I have noticed a very frightening trend of disrespect among health care professionals. Somehow, I don’t ever remember being rude to anyone older than myself and hopefully not to anyone, particularly, when I was a service provider and they were the customers.
After a lot of thought, I’ve written a few suggestions for those fabulous human beings who valiantly act as caregivers to the sick and aging. Hopefully these suggestions will help medical personnel understand that although we may be sick, we baby-boomers are accustomed to getting what we pay for, being involved in our own health care decisions, probably know our bodies better than you do and are not likely to accept being treated as mentally incompetent until we are.
- Don’t be patronizing, even if you are sure I don’t know what a Foley catheter is, I will ask or will catch on soon enough.
- Answer my questions in lay terms, not baby talk. If you don’t have time, then find someone who does. Most doctors have a physician’s assistant or a team of interns around to help with this. Who knows, bedside manner development early in a young doctor’s career may serve he/she well in the future.
- Try to include me in decisions regarding my own treatment. After all, I’ve been living with this body longer than you have known me.
- Assume that if I have intelligent questions, I am capable of understanding intelligent answers. I may not know the difference between a PET scan and a CAT scan, but I do know how to google just about anything.
- Trust me to tell you the truth about medications or drug reactions I may have. LISTEN—I might know something you need to know and will save you embarrassment, time and someone money.
- If I am having a “procedure” respect my privacy. For most of my life, I have chosen who sees me naked. Just because I had surgery doesn’t mean I want my behind viewed by everyone in the room or hall.
- Don’t assume that when I am medicated, I can’t hear or remember what’s being said. I don’t mind a little baseball talk, but please don’t have staff spats in front of me.
- I won’t use the nurse call button unless I really need you. If I do and everyone is busy, just let me know that it may be a minute and I’ll let you know that I can wait my turn, or not.
- If I am hospitalized, I will not ask the nurse to call a doctor unless I really really need one. Don’t assume I’m a hypochondriac until I have proven that I am.
- If I am hospitalized and have the luxury of having a family member or private sitter stay with me, please treat them with respect. They are, after all, probably making your life easier.
- Nurses- you are the guardians of my daily life—please try to be nice even if you are overworked and underpaid. You can make or break my spirits.
- If I have visitors when something private needs to be done, please ask them to step out of the room for a minute. If I want them to stay, I’ll say so.
- After a procedure or surgery, please address me unless I am hopelessly sedated.
- Don’t assume I am going to die even if you think I am. I may need a vestige of hope. Don’t talk about my demise if there is any chance I can hear you. The one exception is when the doctor has to tell me that all options for treatment are over. After that, let me take the lead in discussing my mortality.
- Do everything you can to keep some semblance of a schedule when you are in clinics. I have a schedule as well and have worked hard to fit into yours. I know emergencies happen, but a pattern of tardiness leads me to believe you don’t care or have too many patients. I will take my business elsewhere.
- Try to make waiting rooms as comfortable as possible, especially for the elderly. It is hard enough for the over 70s to get to you, so please don’t make their wait harder by being rude, patronizing or ignoring them.
- Respect my dignity; aging and eventually dying are hard enough. Leave me my dignity as long as possible.
I see the problems in our health care system related largely to the big picture, not individuals who have given their lives to the care of others. If you work at a clinic or hospital that treats people like cattle, you are likely to lose your humanity as well. Speak up, try to change the system from within or move on. Work somewhere you can be proud of. Remember you will inevitably, someday, be the patient. Many hospitals have caring and sympathetic administrators who actually do not know what is going on out there.