Health Care Professionals Make The Worst Patients

Following a lovely snowy evening out to dinner with my husband, for which I dressed up a bit and wore my contact lenses, I began to experience a change in my vision and some pain and tearing in my left eye. I assumed my eyes were simply dry, so I applied some lubricating drops and went to sleep.

The next morning, and although the altered vision was still present, I had no discomfort, so I proceeded with my day. It didn’t take long though, for the pain in my left eye to become so severe that I considered going to the emergency department of my local hospital.

Fortunately, my husband (AKA, my Care Partner!) convinced me to wait a little while so he could drive me directly to my ophthalmologist’s office for an emergency evaluation. It turned out that I had aCorneal Abrasion, a very treatable and curable ailment.

But I have to confess, from the time the pain began until I was back home and well on the way to recovery, I lost my ability to think clearly and was repeatedly “catastrophizing.”

Here’s a partial list of my irrational behaviors:

  • I incorrectly diagnosed myself, despite knowing that my symptoms did not fit.
  • I never considered that I might have a Corneal Abrasion, although the signs were there and wearing the contact lenses the night before should have alerted me.
  • I was positive that I was going to need emergency surgery, and so I decided to shower and blow-dry my hair before leaving the house (who knew when I’d be able to do that again?!).
  • I told my husband to call my closest friend (she’s a nurse who lives in Rhode Island) and ask her to come take care of me. We made a pact in 1985 that if either of us were ever hospitalized, the other one would perform the personal care that one would not expect others to do.
  • I suggested that maybe we should fly my mom home from Florida to take care of me.
  • Even after the pain was gone, I was unable to retain the physician’s spoken instructions for administering three different types of eye drops. I became embarrassed to ask again or to have him write them down. (On the way out, I whispered to my husband “did you get those instructions about the eye drops because I still didn’t get what he said.” He reassured me that he had it under control.)

We can laugh about it now

Fortunately, and thanks in large part to my physician’s calm and gentle manner and his ability to comprehensively assess the situation and come up with a diagnosis and treatment, my cornea healed remarkably well in just a few days. And, thanks also to my Care Partner who developed a plan, drove me where necessary, documented the treatment instructions, and even made me scrambled eggs when we came home, my mom and friend were not needed!

And yet, my pain, anxiety and fear contributed to tremendous feelings of vulnerability and an inability to care for myself along the way.

When do you need a Care Partner?

It is my premise that whenever possible, we should have a Care Partner whenever we access healthcare. Here are some specific times during which it can be particularly helpful:

  • Primary Care Visits. During these appointments, our discussion with our physician generally touches on every medical condition we may have, the treatment plan, our preventive care and the behavioral changes we need to manage medical conditions and lead a healthful life.

    Wouldn’t it be helpful if we could actively listen while someone else took notes for review later? And wouldn’t it also be helpful if you and your Care Partner coached each other and held each other accountable to work on some of the behavioral changes, especially those we find hard to implement such as altering eating habits and committing to exercise?

  • Specialist Visits. Generally, we see specialist physicians because we’ve developed a medical condition that requires the expertise of someone whose additional training and experience is different than that of our primary care physician. We may be experiencing some fear and anxiety that may not allow us to effectively listen, remember all that is discussed, take notes, and have a successful outcome.

    Here as well, why not rely on someone else to help us prepare our agenda, take notes along the way and ask questions we may not think to ask?

  • During an Emergency or Hospitalization. As I demonstrated, when experiencing pain, anxiety and fear in some combination, catastrophizing can happen. I desperately needed another set of eyes/ears and support when it was impossible for me to manage this for myself.

We all know that as people age, Care Partners are invaluable. We also would never send our children to a physician appointment without us. Why then do we assume that a Care Partner is not needed “in between?” Take steps now to identify a Care Partner and make your own pact with yours to support each other along the healthcare continuum.