Even though I haven’t started my third year rotations yet, I have still been learning a lot that can help me in my future career as a physician. I have had the privilege of learning first hand what it is like to be on the other end of the doctor-patient relationship.
Not only did I experience labor for the first time, but I had my first major surgery, I had my first ever hospital stay, and I have also been a worried parent. And I have learned a lot of things as a patient – some were good experiences and a lot were bad experiences. Either way, I think that all of these experiences will stay with me when I’m a doctor.
Having a c section was obviously not part of my birth plan. In fact, it was the only thing I really wanted to avoid with this labor. I had decided prior to having Anika that I wanted to try to have a natural labor, and I wanted to try to manage my pain without getting an epidural. We chose a hospital that had birthing balls and tubs and that seemed like it would be a good fit for our plan.
However, everything went south when I learned I was positive for Group B Strep. It isn’t a big deal or anything, it just means that Anika was at risk of getting an infection, so I had to have IV antibiotics. This was compounded by the fact that my water broke first, which also increases the risk of infection. So before my labor really even started, my birth plan wasn’t going to work out.
I was in so much pain and stuck in bed, unable to use the natural pain control measures I had hoped for, so I decided to get an epidural. And from there, as I’ve already told you, things just went further downhill. When my doctor started discussing c sections with me, I was near tears. It was my biggest nightmare.
When they wheeled me into the OR, the radio was on playing a lot of upbeat music, such as “Single Ladies.” The doctors and nurses were all happy and kind of dancing around. And I was laying half-naked on a table, scared to death, puking my guts out, and just exhausted. I know that it was just an everyday part of their jobs, and there was no real reason for them not to all be happy, but I remember how upsetting that was for me. I was so vulnerable and scared, and it just seemed like nobody else cared, or even really noticed that I, the patient, was in the room.
Except for one person. The anesthesiologist. He was the only one who seemed to be taking things seriously. When I told him I felt sick, he quickly got me an emesis bag and started giving me anti-nausea meds through my IV. He stayed with me through the surgery and kept asking how I was doing. He repeatedly told me if I needed anything or felt sick to let him know. He always explained things clearly before and as he was doing them. He helped move me before and after the surgery, and he made a point to say congratulations and goodbye before he left me alone.
Now it might seem that this is just his job. I mean, he’s an anesthesiologist after all. It wasn’t so much what he did, but how he did it. He took his job seriously, and I just felt like he had a genuine concern for me. He noticed I was there, and he took care of me. And of all the people I met during my labor, I think I will remember him the most.
The rest of our hospital stay was really awful. Both Nick and I are new parents, so we really had very little clue as to what we were doing. And we both just felt like nobody was telling us anything or helping us. The hospital we were at didn’t have a nursery. They emphasize rooming-in with your newborn, which was fine for us and our birth plan. But after my c section, I was recovering myself. I couldn’t even get out of bed the first night, and the baby’s bassinet was too high for me to get her in and out of. And the next night, even though I could get out of bed, it was really painful for me to do so.
Not once did a single nurse offer to hold the baby or help us calm her, and there were long stretches of time where she just wailed. One nurse continually got mad at me because I wasn’t drinking enough water and kept reminding me to get up and walk, but every time I tried, something stopped me. Either the baby was crying, or my food tray hadn’t come yet, or I didn’t have socks, even though I asked for some. And I repeatedly had to remind the nurse to bring me my pain medications because she would forget.
A few of the nurses were more helpful, coming in late at night and getting me food or offering to help me with breastfeeding problems, but overall my first hospital stay was a nightmare. People from all over the hospital would come in every few minutes wanting us to sign something or asking if we wanted pictures. Volunteers brought us a hat and every few hours someone would come and ask me fifty questions about what I wanted to eat for the next three meals. A lot of times I was struggling to feed Anika or she was just crying and crying. One time the nurses were trying to fix her malfunctioning GPS tracking device, even though she clearly hadn’t been abducted, and I kept thinking, is this really important? Can’t they see this is a bad time? I almost cried when on the last morning in the hospital someone told me I could put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. If only someone had told earlier.
And I will never forget the hospital pediatrician. I wasn’t a big fan of her for a number of reasons, but every time she came she would call our baby a “he.” Now, I don’t care if a random stranger thinks Anika is a boy. I get it – sometimes it’s hard to tell with babies. But even after I corrected her, she would still say “he.” And there was a big sign with Anika’s name on it right in front of her. As a physician, you should, at the very least, know what sex your patient is. Maybe it shouldn’t have bothered me so much, but after a night of no sleep and already having a frustrating hospital stay, I really wanted to murder her.
I know this is getting to be a long post, and it might seem like just a bunch of complaining, but it was a really terrible experience for me – one that I’m still struggling with weeks later. When I visited my OB for my two-week checkup, she was really understanding. She was apologetic that I had to go through a c section, and she really listened to me and tried to make me feel better. And I am so grateful for her support. One of the most powerful things she did for me was give me a hug. I really needed that hug.
I had a pretty terrible experience as a patient, but I learned a lot of things. I hope that when I’m seeing patients, especially in the hospital, that I can understand their frustrations and recognize when they are hurting or need help. I wish someone would have done a better job of this with me. I hope that someday I will be the kind of doctor someone remembers because I was there when they needed someone, and not because I wasn’t.