The hospital corridors were gloomy, and the smell of bleach overpowered my senses. The doctor’s piercing eyes stared at me quizzically. I burst into tears and fiercely pushed away the hands of a woman who was trying to stop me while I stormed out. Tears continued to stream down my face and my sobbing rendered breathing difficult. Bystanders took a quick glimpse but seemed indifferent. Death was a normal occurrence at the hospital. Friends and relatives would mourn their loss with loud cries and pleads of desperation. I tried to compose myself as I knew my dad, an 83-year-old man, who had witnessed my outburst, would be worried to death about me. I returned to my seat, next to him, while he was attempting to justify and associate my sorrow to the recent grief in our family. The doctors remained impassive and continued eying me with glances of disapproval. They just broke the news to us that my dad’s diabetes had reached a point where he needed insulin injection every morning and evening for the rest of his life. I had curiously inquired if there were any alternatives to be considered, as an elderly man with poor eyesight would not be able to inject the insulin on his own. Therefore, such diagnosis would obviously render him dependant on others—me to be precise—as it was just he and I living together. The doctors were disgusted by my questions, as if I had doubted their diagnosis, their expertise, their white jackets which commanded respect and reverence.
“IF you want your father alive, well, this is what you have to do!” The words echoed in the walls of the hospital as thoughts in my head kept racing uncontrollably. Harsh memories of my recent experience of taking care of someone special came flooding. The pain and suffering witnessed of the ruthless battle to reach the stillness of death… became vivid. Such experience leaves an unclenching dent in the heart and soul. While I was sitting petrified, haunted by repressed memories, the doctors kept emphasizing the adverse effects of diabetes: amputation, paralysis, death…. My dad, scared of such outcome, just murmured, “It’s ok she will do it.” The doctors, satisfied by that declaration, ignored my uncontrollable sobbing and continued their rounds to spread more joyous news. The same doctors had noticed that when my dad was admitted, I was the only one caring for him, spending the nights at the hospital and buying the endless medications they had prescribed. The same doctors had witnessed that my dad suffers from severe asthma attacks and poor hearing.
Trust is the sentiment that binds us with healthcare professionals, as vessels of medical knowledge who use their expertise to save us and the ones we love. Additionally, empathy for the suffering and pain felt by those involved should drive them to forge solutions, which are kind and respectful to the conditions of the patient and their lifestyle. Instead, physicians are offended by any questions posed by patients and caregivers. They consider the sick unworthy of any explanation for the pain and desperation caused by their sickness. Physicians demand devotion and reverence because of their knowledge and the power they hold OVER the innumerable patients and the caregivers. Docility and total obedience are expected from everyone else, paired with unflinching veneration. As patients and caregivers, we deserve better. I understand that there are underlying issues contributing to the hostility emanating from medical experts, but not to the extent of negating basic human decency. I write this blog cringing from the shooting pain caused by what the dermatologist diagnosed as a stress induced allergy reaction. My stress level was so high it compromised my immune system. Well, the ever-so-wise doctors didn’t predict this diagnosis, did they?
If I’m not healthy, how I’m I supposed to care for those around me? If those who are supposed to use their healing hands to relieve pain inflict more suffering, then who are we supposed to entrust our health to? Well, recently I saw an overstretched t-shirt by a beer belly saying Faith Over Fear, so let’s build tools to feed the faith. Let’s learn from our mistakes and do things differently next time. On this occasion, I chose to learn lessons from the horrid experience:
Caring for others tends to seem like a temporary endeavour, during which we can be at the becking call of the ill. Well, it’s never temporary! When one episode subsides, another one resurfaces, and if we don’t choose to learn from our previous mistakes, we tend to repeat them to our detriment. In fact, while caring for my dad I completely neglected my health and wellbeing. As a result, I learned the bitter lesson that I’m not indestructible, and self-care is not a part-time job. Next time, the damage could be irreparable.
Patience is the key. I will not fight with the guards who refused to let me in the hospital once I heard my dad was admitted in the hospital, in shock. They don’t deserve such emotional outburst as they’re just looking for recognition of their authority. Most importantly I do not need my unprocessed fear to take over me and inhibit my rationality, as we can handle any challenge much better than the thought of it.
Second opinions will set you free. Always seek for a second opinion, inquire who the expert in that condition is, and seek their advice. I know it can be financially draining, but it’s worth getting medical advice that allows us to live a dignified life and assures the quality of life of the elderly.
Keep asking questions to healthcare professions. Until we debunk this authoritarian attitude of physicians, we will not get a respectful treatment from those who have chosen to treat the sick and vulnerable. Thoroughly explaining the condition of patients shouldn’t be a luxury but part of the treatment, which we should demand.
By Zula Afawork