Unheard in the Hospital
As asthmatics, we know our asthma better than anyone. We know what our triggers are, what our history is, and what helps us recover. As experts of our own asthma, sometimes it can be frustrating when we feel unheard or experience undervalued. Ironically, this happens more often than we'd like in clinical settings, like the hospital. This is about an experience of mine when I felt unheard in the emergency room. Hopefully, how I felt will resonate with you and some personal tips I share can help you feel empowered, even when we are ignored by our doctors.
Ignored by my doctor
When I arrived at the ER, I came with lung pain and panic because I did not have my inhaler. I immediately asked for an albuterol rescue inhaler, which was the first thing they ignored. They said that I needed to wait to be assessed and see if I qualified to receive albuterol. After a half-an-hour of waiting, lips still discolored and breaths still shallow, I was finally admitted, assessed, and given a nebulizer with albuterol.
The treatment was helping lots and my lung pain was subsiding. However, the doctor recommended that I take some Benadryl for my allergies. I explained that a lung infection triggered this attack and that I did not have allergies at the moment, so I did not need the Benadryl. The doctor pushed back on this, but I insisted that I wouldn’t take the medication if I didn’t need it. A few minutes later, the nurse walks in with a small paper cup containing the two Benadryl tablets that I declined. I did not take them because I did not need them.
After several hours, when I was breathing better into a peak flow and my oxygen levels were back up, I expressed that I felt good to go. I was getting ready to be discharged when the doctor came in and said she was prescribing me codeine for my cough. I explained that I don’t take opiates because I have a terrible reactions to them and am not very enthusiastic about the addiction rates. The doctor left without saying anything more about the topic and a nurse returned with a bottle of codeine cough syrup and my discharge paperwork.
How being ignored by my doctor felt
This happened while I was in college, studying different medical practices, infrastructures, and philosophies. Something I learned about was a patient/doctor disconnection, commonly experienced in western medicine. In qualitative studies, patients feel unheard or ignored in clinical settings, resulting in a large majority of complaints against doctors.1
In other cultures, the healer/patient relationship is different. There is an emphasis on developing trust and a cooperative relationship. Although, understandable due to patient volume of the hospital, I saw my doctor for a total of about 15 minutes during my 4-hour stay. Unfortunately, within those brief interactions with my doctor, my personal values and concerns were shared but ignored.
I felt frustrated, distrustful, and there was some hurt in there as well. That being said, I appreciated that they helped me when I needed their help. Although, I was hoping to share my self-knowledge and participate actively in my healing and I did not get that. I felt like my experience with my asthma, which far exceeded the doctor’s experience with my asthma, was invaluable.
My personal solution
From being a part of this community, I know now that the studies on patient/doctor relationship represent how many of us have felt in a clinical setting: unheard. Alas, these studies have proposed solutions for how this communication gap can be bridged! Many doctors now go through training to communicate more effectively with patients and are given incentives to get higher quality reviews from patients. My experiences have been better since then; although, in the moment, I try to practice some things to bring my ego some peace:
- I try to understand that doctors are incredibly busy and are sometimes stretched thin between patients.
- I remember that I know my asthma well and I came here for the assistance I needed, not for conversation.
- If I’m given a medication I don’t want, I don’t take it or I ask for another medication, with reason.
- I remember that I’m not alone in these experiences and that I can come and vent to a community where others understand.
- I take the time to make an honest review. If given a survey, I will convey my experience so that hopefully the next patient has a better experience.
As asthmatics, we have felt unheard, but know that it has not gone unnoticed. There is research being done constantly to improve the experiences patients have in clinical settings. As doctors are better trained, given incentives, and reviewed by their peers, quality of care and communication moves in the right direction.
Be an advocate for your care and be heard by your caregiver. We have a union behind our health and we stand with each other to build a better system for tomorrow.
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