In the News, Work Stuff

Be Alert, Not Anxious – COVID-19 Update

Hi.

How are you doing?

I think this might have been the longest week of my life. I’m sure you can relate.

The world has gone crazy, are you keeping up?

On second thought, don’t keep up. Ignore the news. Or at the very least, tune in one or twice a day – no more than that.

I strongly believe we are where we are today BECAUSE of the media. They have taken great lengths to thoroughly and completely stir people up into a panic. Well done, media. You have induced mass hysteria.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take the Coronavirus seriously, but again, when compared to the common influenza numbers, I don’t think it warrants the reaction that it has gotten.

Flu season is hitting its stride right now in the US. So far, the CDC has estimated (based on weekly influenza surveillance data) that at least 12,000 people have died from influenza between Oct. 1, 2019 through Feb. 1, 2020, and the number of deaths may be as high as 30,000.

The CDC also estimates that up to 31 million Americans have caught the flu this season, with 210,000 to 370,000 flu sufferers hospitalized because of the virus.

So how do these numbers compare to flu deaths in previous years? So far, it looks like the 2019-2020 death toll won’t be as high as it was in the 2017-2018 season, when 61,000 deaths were linked to the virus. However, it could equal or surpass the 2018-2019 season’s 34,200 flu-related deaths.

Overall, the CDC estimates that 12,000 and 61,000 deaths annually since 2010 can be blamed on the flu. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the flu kills 290,000 to 650,000 people per year. Source

So, why the mind-numbing fear? The unknown, I guess. It’s something new and different and since the media have done such a good job of scaring the shit out of people, and fear is one of the, if not the most, powerful emotions humans can experience and only breeds and feeds off itself, people have completely lost sight of reality.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t treat the Coronavirus seriously, but seriously, get a grip.

This too shall pass. Take precautions, be proactive without being irrational.

You can’t control what is happening but you CAN control how you react to it.

What tightens my sphincter is how everyone is reacting to this latest crisis. Wow man, get a grip. It only takes a handful of people to freak out and buy all the toilet paper before human instinct kicks in and other people follow suit.

“Wow. The selves are empty. What do other people know that I don’t? I should stock up, too. It doesn’t matter that I already have two giant rolls of toilet paper at home, I need MORE. I need to protect ME and MY FAMILY. What if we’re sequestered for weeks? Months? Years??”

This is a natural progression of thought and I would by lying if I told you that I didn’t feel the pinch of fear as Kevin and I were doing our normal weekly shopping as well. It’s tempting, very tempting, to give in to this emotion and lose touch with reality for a bit.

We’re human. It’s how we’re programmed.

But the selfish tendencies of people during times like this really shine. Stop. Breathe. Think. What about the people who have nothing?? What about the people with bare shelves and no options? Buy what you need and leave some for other people.

I realize that some people do this because they are grasping for control over a situation they have no control over. I get it, I’m the same way. But I force myself to stop, breathe and think before simply succumbing to that dark monster of fear that likes to whisper in my ear from time-to-time.

And I would get the mass hysteria when it comes to groceries if there were no other options. THERE. CONTINUE. TO. BE. OPTIONS. Restaurants are still in business, you just have to use the drive-thru or the take out option. I honestly don’t think people are remembering that option. And these poor restaurants are just trying to keep their heads above the water so that they can provide a little work for their employees, let’s help them out, shall we?

Which brings me to the biggest part of this crisis that worries the most: the financial fallout.

Businesses are being shut down and people are losing their jobs. Jobs they depend on for money so they can pay bills and buy food. I think part of the hysteria is the fact that people are scared of that either happening, or happening, to them. It’s already  happened to my nephew. He works at a restaurant and he’s been laid off. I have no idea if they are giving him an option of coming in to help with take out orders, but I sure hope there is some option available to him until this virus burns off and we can get back to normal.

Some businesses may never recover – what happens to the poor people that worked there?

I predict it takes MONTHS for our economy to recover. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I also predict we’re heading toward another recession. Think of the travel industry, they have shut down entirely. Disney has shut down and announced they are going to continue paying their 750,000 employees. Though admirable, where does THAT money come from? Employers are trying to do the right thing for their employees, and that’s certainly admirable, but at some point, the money will dry up if they’re not allowed to open back up for business. And even then, it will take them some time to play catch up.

People like to snarl and point out, “but it’s not about the bottom line, Karen, it’s about the people.”

Precisely my point. Who does the bottom line ultimately affect? THE PEOPLE.

And if we’re reacting this way to something that is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, (remember the influenza numbers? And that happens EVERY YEAR), how are we going to react if something like the black plague happens?

It will truly be a Mad Max scenario, I fear. I pray I’m wrong but judging by what is happening now? I think it’s a distinct possibility.

So, how is this affecting me personally? I work at the hospital, remember?

This past Tuesday, our hospital went into lock-down mode. Meaning, only employees and patients can pass the doors. And any other people who want in have to be screened and have their temperatures taken. And most entrances to the hospital are closed, you can only enter/leave by certain entrances.

It’s spooky, but I totally understand the precautions and I appreciate them. We had the added advantage of being on Spring Break at work, meaning most of the doctors were out any way to spend time with their families but what about next week? Are we going to cancel clinics? And if the clinic closes down, what about the rest of us? What does that mean for our jobs?

I’ll be honest, and a bit selfish, but that is my biggest concern.

The nurses will be reallocated to other areas of the hospital, that’s a given. But what about the rest of us non-licensed saps? The hospital has done a great job of communicating with us and letting us know how they will respond if that happens. And it’s already happened to quite a few departments – those people have been reallocated to other areas. Human resources is keeping a running tally of places that people can go to help out. But what happens when there are no more places to put people? Because we’re talking about A LOT of departments have been affected by this outbreak.

We can use our ETO (Earned time off), but what if we don’t want to use ETO? Then unpaid leave it is. But what about our bills? Money to live off of? Because let’s be real, most people live from paycheck to paycheck – I’m saying that’s wise, but it is real.

Kevin and I have talked, at length, about what we will do if I’m laid off. Because if there aren’t very many jobs and it comes to me or someone I work with who is not as financially secure as we are, I’m going home, hands down. That other person needs the work more than I do. And Kevin is self-employed and still working, so at least we have one income. And we have savings, etc.

But I really hope it doesn’t come to that. Some of our doctors have canceled clinics for next week but not all of them. Some doctors have proposed a telemedicine sort of compromise and we might end up doing that for my team, but at this point, we’re just taking it day by day. All elective surgeries have been canceled, probably for the next month, but our doctors need something to do, I guess.

In the meantime, one of the ways I cope with stressful situations like this is to gather information – facts. I don’t give a shit about a pundit’s opinion or prediction, give me the facts then shut up.

I stumbled across this Ted Talk on YouTube and thought I would share it. It’s worth a watch:

I found myself rolling my eyes at the part where she talks about climate change because I’m coming to this conversation with a pre-conceived notion, thoughts and opinions about climate change – i.e. I don’t believe it’s man made but I can’t dispute that our climate is changing – it’s circular in nature so of course it changes – where do you think we get our average temperatures from? However, I’m forcing myself to be fair and to listen, really listen, to what she’s saying because I think it’s important that we ALL start to retrain our brains to listen and stop jumping to conclusions, because when we do that, we stop listening.

It was interesting what she said about the structure of the Coronavirus and how it originates from animals and that we will continue to see outbreaks in the years ahead simply because we will continue to meet and encounter animals in various ways through societal ways. I don’t know why I’m surprised by this, I guess I was hoping that once the Coronavirus expends itself we would never see something like this again but I guess I’m being too optimistic. I do hope, though, that it’s several years before it happens again.

And it WILL happen again, on some level. I just pray we learn something from this experience and take proactive steps in the future so that we are better prepared and emotionally equipped to handle the stress of it all.

I also really liked what she said about better and honest communication so that we can talk about these sorts of things WHEN they happen to avoid misinformation, panic and agendas that do nothing but destroy and further alienate people from one another. I wish people would critically think before they react – the news media IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. They could give a rats ass about you, or about society: they are all about getting clicks, selling ads and generating enough buzz that you will choose them instead of their competitor the next time you need “news.” Fear is a powerful, POWERFUL emotion and it doesn’t take much to ignite that match. Fear muddies the water toward a rational, workable solution and I don’t know about you, but the faster we can educate ourselves and make wise choices, the faster we can move on to happier times.

Be CONSCIOUS of your surroundings. Be CONSCIOUS of things you touch throughout the day. Avoid opening doors with your hands, carry a tissue, or a rag, or something to use instead. Don’t push elevator buttons with your finger, use your elbow, or the back of your hand. Don’t touch  your face. Wash your hands after leaving someplace public.  Sneeze and cough into your elbow -NOT YOUR HANDS!!!!!! These precautions should be part of your every day life, not just when there’s an outbreak.

I’ll stop talking now, I just wanted to document what is going on right now and to hopefully give you, dear reader, some hope moving forward. Be alert, not anxious.

If you take nothing away from this post, then take this: The precautions in place now should ALWAYS be implemented. Every day. No matter the season. Watch this video of how germs spread if you don’t believe me.

Stay healthy, friends.

Work Stuff

An Update on the Coronavirus

Here is Dr. Mike again with an update on the Coronavirus:

Again, take what you hear with a grain of salt. It behooves the government to keep people in fear. I would even take what the CDC and the WHO organization say with a grain of salt

Again, WASH YOUR HANDS. Cover your mouth when you sneeze/cough with your arm, not your hands. DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE throughout the day. Avoid touching high traffic areas: door handles, elevator buttons, handrails, counter tops – do not touch them with your fingers. Use your elbows, or use the paper towels you use after you wash your hands in public restrooms.

These are precautions that should be followed year round, but especially now.

We get routine updates from our Infectious Disease doctors at work. So far, there has only been education and awareness, we haven’t gone into lock-down mode and the world is not ending. We have prevalent diseases that occur every year, some years are more aggressive (and get more coverage because it’s an election year and they’re trying to make the economy tank so our current administration looks bad and less people vote for him – this is my own personal theory, of course). All you can do is be pro-active in keeping yourself healthy.

Work Stuff

Facts About the COVID-19 Virus

Let’s talk about the Coronavirus…

One thing about working in healthcare is the annual virus scare. It’s always something every year, Ebola, SARS, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, etc.

I’m not trying to make light of these viruses, I’m just saying that every year it’s something new to think and worry about.

The place my mind always goes to whenever something new breaks out is, does this mean I’m going to have to get yet another vaccine?

I think vaccines are great, overall, measles, mumps, polio, etc. But the yearly flu vaccination? I’m not a fan. According to the CDC website, getting a flu vaccination “reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.” Keywords: WELL-MATCHED.

There are hundreds of flu viruses currently out there and the flu virus evolves each year to stay alive and adapt. The odds of the CDC accurately predicting that season’s flu strain is slim. I’m not saying it’s not possible and for some people, who have autoimmune diseases, the elderly and pregnant women, something is better than nothing, but the majority of healthcare workers that are FORCED to get the flu vaccination each year?

Yeah, not a fan.

I think I’m more irritated by the fact that I’m FORCED to get the flu vaccination than at the vaccination itself, though I do understand WHY our choice has been taken way, after all, we’re working with the most fragile of our population, it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

So, WHEN the yearly scare occurs, my first thought is, “Oh no you’re NOT going to give me another vaccination.” And really, the only time they would MAKE us get a vaccination based on the prevalent virus of the year would be when it graduates to a pandemic, meaning it’s spread world wide. And by then, it would probably be smarter to get the vaccine – again, I’m just annoyed that my choice has been taken away.

But I digress.

This current virus has everyone truly scared. I routinely talk to patients that tell me they are scared. I mean, viruses are scary in and of themselves, but the media hype only serves to frighten people even more.

So, it’s VERY IMPORTANT that you get the facts and ignore the media hysteria. Remember, the media exists to sell ads and working people up in a frenzy so that they are hanging on every word the media spoon feeds them only serves their own agenda.

The media could care less about the facts.

As a public service announcement, here are a couple of videos by Dr. Mike. I like watching his videos because he does a good job of explaining things so that average Janes (like myself), can understand what’s REALLY happening.

Also, in writing this blog post, I went to the CDC website and looked through Disease Outbreaks by Year. It’s interesting how many diseases circulate and we DON’T really hear about them.

The bottom line, folks, WASH YOUR HANDS. And COVER YOUR MOUTHS WHEN SNEEZING AND COUGHING. And NOT WITH YOUR HANDS. USE A TISSUE OR YOUR SLEEVE.

And don’t touch your face throughout the day only and until you have thoroughly washed your hands. And newsflash: your urine and fecal matter? Is TEEMING with bacteria. You’re not special, your waste byproduct is just as nasty as the person in the stall next to you.

Your hands are dirty. Wash them. Don’t be that asshole that leaves the bathroom without washing his/her hands.

Avoid touching high traffic areas: Door handles, shopping cart handles (use the wipes that most places provide or take some of your own), hand railings, elevator buttons, etc.

That simple step could be all it takes to keep you healthy during flu season.

People are nasty. TRULY.  I see it firsthand.

Work Stuff

Gossip is a B*tch

gossip: casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.

Dangers of gossip:

  • Erosion of trust and morale.
  • Lost productivity and wasted time.
  • Increased anxiety among employees as rumors circulate without clear information as to what is and isn’t fact.
  • Divisiveness among employees as people take sides.
  • Hurt feelings and reputations.
  • Attrition due to good employees leaving the company because of an unhealthy work environment.

Oh yeah, we’re going there. Strap in.

I’ve been having anxiety attacks again. My chest is tightening and I feel like I have heartburn all the time. My heart is being thrown into palpitations and my whole body just feels TENSE.

Things were going great at work. Everyone had their assigned doctors, we were all doing our thing … and then one of the MA’s was asked to leave. She wasn’t a good fit. Her doctor wasn’t happy with her work performance and this girl, though  nice, was one of those people who you couldn’t say anything to without her taking it the wrong way or over analyzing everything. If you said something, it became a “thing.” If you didn’t say anything, it became a “thing.” If you tried to help, it was a “thing.” If you looked at her wrong, she made it into a “thing.”

News flash, I don’t do “things.” I like my drama-free life, thank you very much. I tried to stay out of it as much as possible but one thing about being one of the oldest people in your clinic is: people come to you for advice because being older equates to being wiser, I guess.

So, I heard a lot. And I offered advice and served up my thoughts.

Mistake number one.

But honestly, we all heaved a collective sigh of relief when this person was kicked out because she was just too exhausting to be around and ain’t nobody got time to walk on eggshells all day, every day.

Now there was an MA opening.

Right around the time this MA was asked to leave, another MA, who worked with Dr. S., was struggling to try and do a good job for him. It didn’t help that she was fairly new and was being told, or showed, different ways of doing things. We all do the same things but we all approach these duties a bit differently because every doctor we work with prefers a different approach. Which is fine, but it can be confusing. I have to give this MA credit, she lasted way longer with Dr. S. than I thought she would. Because Dr. S. is a dick. On one hand, I think he enjoys being a dick because he gets some sort of high off being that way simply because he CAN. But on the other hand, he is a meticulous doctor and wants it done a certain way and accuracy is EVERYTHING to this man. Which is not a bad thing, we should always strive to be accurate but let’s not forget, we are human and it’s not a question of IF we miss something, it’s a question of WHEN. And WHEN that happens, please be patient as we learn from this experience and strive not to do the same thing again.

Because Dr. S. has such a reputation in our clinic as being difficult to work with, he has gone through several nurses and MA’s. No one wants to work with him because it’s just not easy, let alone pleasant. So Dr S. is discouraged by his clinic days because no one sticks around long enough to LEARN and/or IMPLEMENT what he wants.

Someone, who had good intentions, told Dr. S’s MA that he didn’t like her. Unfortunately, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back and she went to management and told them she no longer wanted to work with Dr. S.

So, she no longer works with him and took over the spot that was recently vacated by the MA that was asked to leave.

Are you keeping up?

Personally? I don’t blame the girl. I wouldn’t want to continue to work with a doctor who is difficult on a good day, let alone who doesn’t like me or I don’t like him. How exhausting. I didn’t blame her one bit for moving, I just wish it had happened a bit more organically and wasn’t prompted by another employee, who again, had good intentions but the execution left much to be desired.

Now, Dr S. is without an MA – again. And his nurse had to leave because of family issues, which is a shame, because she was actually a good fit for Dr. S., but life happens, what are you going to do?

Now Dr. S. is without an MA OR a nurse. Awesome.

Enter me.

Look. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but I’ve been an MA for nearly six years now and I feel like I have a pretty good handle on my job. I can handle the patients, give the doctor what he wants and very little gets by me so that our clinics typically run really well, barring anything outside my control.

I thought about it … agonized over it … and ultimately, I just couldn’t sit back and do NOTHING. That’s not in my DNA, unfortunately.

I volunteered to take over Dr. S.’s clinic preps/clean up until we could get someone else hired, trained and up and running.

I did it because A. I knew no one else would volunteer, which B. meant that we all would be assigned days to cover for Dr. S., which meant we would have 8 different hands in his schedules and potentially a completely f*cked up mess that would only make our volatile doctor even more of an ass to be around. Which brought me to C. I know what I’m doing and I was hoping I could bring a little stability to his clinic schedules and D. I thought of Dr. S. as a challenge and I like challenges, and E. I don’t give a rats ass if he likes me or not.

Take me or leave me, dude, I really don’t care.

However, me, being me, I took on the challenge, THAT I VOLUNTEERED for, and have been stressing myself out because I desperately want to do a good job for this man and I didn’t want him to think I was a dumb ass and say something to my normal doctor like, “Wow, your MA is really stupid” or something to that effect because I DO care what my doctor and mid-level think of me and I don’t want to disappointment them.

So yeah, I’ve been stressed being Dr. S’s “MA.” I have covered a few of his clinics though thankfully, we are rotating on actually working his clinics, so that helps a bit. But I am the go-to person for anything concerning his clinic schedules, which is fine, and seems to have been working thus far.

At least, I haven’t heard anything to the contrary and in cases like this, no news is good news when it comes to Dr. S.

However, Dr. S.’s old MA, though consistently covering another doctor, is always listed on the coverage schedule as a covering MA. I mean, if she’s going to be this other doctor’s consistent MA, why make it sound like it’s a temporary gig on the schedule?

This has been going on for WEEKS. Nothing is being said, nothing has been announced, we’re just stuck in limbo. So naturally, people have questions.

Which management construes as GOSSIP.

I respectfully disagree.

WE HAVE QUESTIONS. WE ARE ASKING QUESTIONS. What’s the big secret? Why isn’t management telling us what’s going on? The lack of communication from management is only making us ask MORE questions. And now, management has berated us for gossiping because these questions are getting back to management and they aren’t addressing the questions.

Dude, if you don’t have answers to these questions, just tell us – we’re still working on the situation. But to deliberately not address the elephant in the room only makes that elephant an even bigger entity which leads to more questions.

Which management then gets pissed off about and now the message is more severe and less enlightening and again we are TOLD to stop gossiping.  Which confuses people even more – it’s a damn merry-go-round.

Everyone is now so sensitive to this “gossip” problem that I was actually pulled into my director’s office and she asked me why I brought this MA’s name up in a conversation I had with my immediate manager. First of all, that was a conversation that had NOTHING to do with my director and secondly, I mentioned this MA’s name because I was making a suggestion on how I thought she would be a good fit to help out another team that just lost their MA. (Yes, I’m talking about a THIRD MA leaving – they’re dropping like flies, ya’ll).

I was beyond annoyed. I told my director that I was confused by this “gossip” thing and felt like the real issue wasn’t “gossiping” but a lack of communication on management’s part. Everything is a damn secret in this clinic. All management has to do is address the murmurs, answer the questions to the best of their ability, people are not stupid, they realize that there are some issues that are none of their business but SOME information is better than NONE and by the way, don’t make us feel like 5-year old children because we dare TO ASK QUESTIONS.

I also told my director that when it comes to this specific person, or really, anyone outside myself, I don’t care what happens. Ultimately, it’s none of my business. But when things happen seemingly out of nowhere, we, as humans, who have a vested interest of what happens in the clinic because we spend 40 hours of our lives every week in this place, have a right to wonder WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON.

Of course, I didn’t word it like that, I maintained a professional tone of voice (though I’m not going to lie, I was pretty frustrated, and have been because this tension has been building FOR WEEKS), that was the essence of our conversation.

Look. Gossip happens. I’m not naive enough to think it doesn’t happen. Whether it’s with ill-intent or not, gossip is a by-product of working with a group of people, but when something happens, and everyone notices it happened, but management treats it like, “hey, there’s nothing to see here, folks, move along” and then berates us because we dare to ask questions about what happened, that’s not gossip, that’s just bad management.

I think this situation has not been addressed for so long that it only PROMOTES gossip because we’re all speculating and wondering why management hasn’t said anything. What are they hiding?

It just snowballs.

And unfortunately, this is how our clinic runs. Our communication with management is not ideal. They can do a better job. And I think our clinic peeps also need to understand that not everything that happens in the clinic is their business. However, when something happens that affects the overall running of the clinic, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to answer a few damn questions.

So. This “gossip” train has also been stressing me out. And whenever I feel overwhelmed, I tend to withdraw and emotionally shut down. I go into self-preservation mode – I don’t care. I have to do this because I find myself caring TOO much and honestly folks, IT’S JUST A JOB. It’s not worth my health and when your job starts to physically affect you, it’s time to take a step back and breath some reality.

Dr. S. is starting to get used to my face. He has had a few suggestions concerning my clinic prep (which he told to his medical secretary who told me. But that’s par for the course with these doctors – they go to the person they are most comfortable with and his medical secretary has been with him for a long time. That’s fine. I get it. It doesn’t bother me) and I’m adjusting what I’m doing based on his feedback and hopefully making his clinics a little less painful for him.

But consistently maintaining two doctors’ schedules takes a lot of my mental reserves and it’s all I can do to keep my head above water. And I’m being real here – we have to resolve this other doctor’s MA team thing before we can even ADDRESS finding an MA for Dr. S. and now an MA for the team that just lost theirs. I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel on the Dr. S situation for quite some time.

And again, that’s fine, I volunteered for this gig, remember? However, what I DON’T have time for is the extra drama and reprimanding from management for all of the “gossip” around the clinic.

My mantra, at this time, is, “I don’t have an opinion and I don’t have any suggestions.” It’s sad that I’ve come to this place but my mental, and physical health, can’t take any more stress at this point.

I’m in survival mode and will continue to be in survival mode until the dust settles, every team has an MA, and we can get back to “normal.”

Work Stuff

Communicating with Patients

Watch this video and then we’ll talk.

Guilty pleasure, I like Dr. Mike. I think he’s adorable, humble and truly wants to make a difference in the world. (Nice character idea for a story, actually).

I think I like him largely because I can understand a lot of what he’s saying when it comes to medicine. Not on a doctor level, of course, I’m not a doctor, but from a medical professional standpoint where I’m asked to interview and prime patients to be seen by the doctor.

A LARGE part of what I do is interpreting patient body language and picking up on what patients are NOT saying. For example: “Oh, I see you’re taking Eliquis, Ms. Smith. Do you have a heart issue? History of blood clots?”

(Eliquis is a blood thinner).

Or a patient will say in an off hand way, “I fell about two weeks ago and it’s been hurting ever since.”

“Oh? What caused the fall? Did you trip on something? Did your legs collapse beneath you?”

Which might indicate dizziness and weakness.

Or a patient will endlessly squirm in his/her seat or the patient is pale and sweating, (low blood sugar?), or their hands are shake uncontrollably (Parkinson’s?)

Or his/her blood pressure is super high or super low which could indicate various issues (which you tell your doctor about so he is aware that is a potential problem if we get to the surgery stage).

And you can nearly always tell the patients who are sugar coating their pain and symptoms because they either want drugs or they plan on filing for disability. Sorry folks, but it’s a real thing and happens daily.

“What is your pain rate today on a scale 1 to 10, 10 being the worse?”

“Oh a 10, for sure,” the patient will reply and yet they appear comfortable and his/her blood pressure is normal.

Your blood pressure don’t lie, ya’ll. If your pain is at a 10, then you’re being mauled by a bear and being torn limb from limb. A level 10 pain rate is you’ve been in a horrible accident and had your arm ripped off your body. THAT’S a 10 and if your pain was truly at a 10, I can promise you, your blood pressure would be higher than normal.

But I digress. (Also, be honest on the pain rate when your health care professional asks you, people. Telling your doctor you have a pain rate of 10 because you want to make sure your doctor knows you’re in pain does NOT impress anyone, believe me. In fact, it might actually have the opposite effect, now your doctor can’t trust you to be honest with him).

The point of this post is the importance of communicating effectively. Not just for me when I interview a patient or for a patient when he/she speaks to the doctor, but with people in general. We talk about this a lot at work and I firmly believe that to be successful at your job, in relationships or life in general, learning to communicate effectively is KEY.

I don’t feel like a lot of people know how to communicate. I’m not claiming to be an expert in this field but I did learn a lot from my communication classes in college about the importance of facial expressions, body language and how NOT to speak to someone and instantly put him/her on the defensive because when that happens? Communication ceases to exist. Then it just becomes damage control.

Side note: When Dr. Mike is telling his story and he’s offering possible treatment options and the patient just flat out says no to everything he says, that is incredibly frustrating to not just the doctor but his staff trying to help the patient. If you don’t try this stuff, how do you know it won’t work? Also, I think society, as a whole, expects a quick fix to every problem. We live in an instant gratification world now with online shopping, instant pictures, super-fast communication options, etc., that people tend to forget. Sometimes, there isn’t a quick fix, sometimes, to solve a problem, it means making lifestyle changes, like stop smoking, start moving more, make better food choices, and people don’t want to hear it. This is not a realistic expectation and yet, it’s more and more common to encounter patients who get upset because we’re not offering a magic potion or a pill that will solve their problem in an instant without asking them to make any changes in their lives or require any effort on their end.

This is a HUGE problem.

And the part where he talks about her unloading on him about her personal issues HAPPENS DAILY. I can assure you that when that happens, most healthcare professionals want nothing to do with it. If it doesn’t have anything to do with the physical ailment you’re there to address, your doctor doesn’t give a crap. It’s not that he’s not a caring person, but he’s there to do a job and that’s what he wants to do, to help you with your ailment. And, let’s not forget the roomful of other patients that are waiting on him to fix their ailments.  And though you want nothing more than to interrupt the patient and get him/her back on track, you can’t. One, it’s rude. Two, sometimes it’s helpful for the patient to purge those emotions leaving them free to focus on the physical ailment. Three, if you piss the patient off, then he/she is not thinking about the ailment anymore but focused on their FEELINGS in the moment.

It’s a fine line, and takes a lot of practice, to gently guide the conversation back to the ailment because let’s be honest, it’s not all about you. I have a doctor waiting on me to finish so he can go in and speak to the patient. And I have a waiting room full of patients fixated on the clock and OH MY GOSH, IT’S NOW FIVE MINUTES PAST MY APPOINTMENT TIME, WHAT’S THE HOLD UP?!

I have been known to look at people who bitch about the amount of time they’ve had to wait and say, “You know. You’re not getting your car washed. People are complicated and some take more time than others.”

In other words, don’t fuck with me. It’s called my “professionally firm voice.” Don’t make me use it.

And yet, those are THE VERY people who won’t shut up and talk about everything BUT the reason they’re there and taking time away from the other patients in the waiting room.

But back to effectively communicating …

  1. Rapport First – absolutely agree with this tactic. I make it a goal to speak to the patient as a person first. Ask them about their day. What are they going to do after their appointment. Make a self-depreciating joke and get them laughing. Something to help them relax a bit and feel human before we go poking at their sore spots. It doesn’t take long and it’s 30 seconds of time well spent.
  2. Epistemology – understand where the patient’s knowledge came from. Now, I’m not the doctor and a lot of medical stuff goes over my head, but when they say something about Googling their systems or they read something somewhere, I like to remind patients that though knowledge is good, you have to take what you read with a grain of salt. Reviews on Google are generally written by people who had unrealistic expectations to begin with and didn’t get their way or were pissed because they didn’t feel like the doctor cared enough about their ailment. And that may be true, but remember, there is always, ALWAYS, two sides to a story. It’s important to remind patients of that fact, at times.
  3. Don’t bully someone into a conversation he/she doesn’t want to have. This happens ALL THE TIME. I don’t know how this impacts the doctor and his conversations and maybe it doesn’t happen as often to the doctor because people know he’s the expert and they don’t want to piss him off so he doesn’t help them, but it happens to me and the nurse nearly every conversation we have. People in general, try to manipulate us in various ways to do what they want us to do. When I first started in healthcare, I used to cower and placate because I didn’t want to upset the patient and though I don’t go out of my way to upset patients now, I have learned how NOT to be bullied into something. I give patients controlled options. We can either do this or this, you choose. By approaching a problem this way, it gives the patient a bit of the control back. They may not like my options but if you want to move forward with my doctor and our clinic, these are your only options. I have no problem compromising with patients on something I have some control over, but ultimately, this is how it works. The process may be convoluted and frustrating, but it’s a process that works and that’s what we’re going to do. You are not the only patient we take care of and I wish more people would remember that. We’re in this together. I do not exist simply to take care of you and your problem.

There are times it’s better to shut up and listen, to offer sympathy, to offer options or to take charge of the situation. But the challenge is knowing when to apply these options because people are not cookie cutter cut outs. They are complicated and come from all walks of life and all sorts of experiences and often it’s prudent to stop and take your cues from the patients to effectively communicate with them.

I write all of this work-related stuff because I truly want people to understand where the medical profession is coming from when taking care of patients. I think too many people have too many preconceived notions about doctors and staff and it frustrates me to no end. WE are people too and we truly just want to do the best jobs we can do for both the patients and the doctors we represent.

Please remember that.

Work Stuff

Doctors are Human Cyborgs

This is a picture of my inner bad bitch self. Be scared, Dr. Bob.

Well goody, I’m being assigned to one of the biggest asshole doctors in our clinic next week.

Can’t wait.

Doctors are a different breed of person. I sometimes have to remind myself they are HUMAN. They have lives, they have feelings, they have bad days, they want to be included in things because it’s human instinct to BELONG to something.

But they are also highly intelligent and sometimes I feel like THEY have to remind themselves that they are human as well.

Translation; don’t be a dick to the very staff that are being paid to HELP you.

I work with neurosurgeons – brain surgeons, if that makes a bigger impact on you. I feel like brain surgeons are in the top of the doctor spectrum. They are elite, intelligent and literally save, and change, people’s lives.

They can also allow this elitism to go to their heads and they can be moody, volatile and temperamental. But they have enormous pressure put on them too. More pressure than most of us will feel in our entire lives, let alone DAILY. Cut them some slack.

If you see a doctor for whatever issue and you feel like that doctor isn’t really listening to you or acts impatient with you, try and have some patience because you have NO IDEA what sort of day he’s having. It’s very likely he just came from a room where he had to tell a patient they have an inoperable brain tumor and only have weeks to live.

(True story).

I’m not trying to excuse the doctor’s that are flat out rude or abrupt, just know that these doctors are HUMAN and you truly don’t know what it’s like to be in his shoes, what he sees or what sort of mental anguish he has to go through every day when dealing with difficult, and sad, cases.

BE PATIENT WITH YOUR DOCTOR. You just don’t know what kind of day he/she is having.

The key, at least, in my lowly medical assistant experience of working with brain surgeons for the past eight (EIGHT!?) years, is to take your cues from the doctor. Are they smiling? Kidding around? Seem to be in a good mood? Probably a good day to give them a hard time and remind them they are human – in a tasteful, professional way, of course.

Are they expressionless, staring at images intently, or highly focused/serious? Those are the days you stay professional and focused yourself. You don’t make eye contact. These are the times you put your head down and do the best job you can possibly do and work to make their day as painless and smooth as you possibly can.

I’m very, VERY, VERY lucky to consistently work with an even-tempered, pretty chill, kind and funny doctor.  Patient’s also love him. I pretty much adore him. He’s ‘da bomb.com. But let’s be real, he has his moments, he’s HUMAN after all and he’s certainly allowed to be grouchy from time-to-time. A bad day for brain surgeons are VERY BAD. When you have to declare someone brain dead and then tell the family … most of us can’t even IMAGINE the absolute hell that must be to experience.

(True story)

And remembering they have to do unthinkable things like that makes me WAY more patient with them when they are being dicks to us that day. It’s the nature of the “business.” You can’t take it personally. You just can’t.

However, there are those doctors, and thankfully, I haven’t experienced very many of them in my years working for this clinic, but there are a few doctors that are just ASSHOLES. Not to their patients, but with their staff. The doctors I’m talking about are the doctors that literally throw things when something doesn’t go their way. Or they cut a person to the very bone marrow with sharp criticism. Or they threaten to walk out of their clinic because their computer will not respond fast enough to their liking. Or they arrive two hours late to clinic, CONSISTENTLY. That’s when you start being proactive and schedule his first round of patients at the time he rolls in because when you have to hand out gas cards to patients because your doctor is two hours late to clinic, THAT’S A PROBLEM.

(True story).

The kind of doctor who discards nurses and medical assistants like bags of dog poop. The kind of doctor who now has such a hellish reputation (not just in the clinic but in the OR room as well)  that when an applicant finds out she’s interviewing to be his nurse, medical assistant, the applicant promptly says “no thanks” and walks out.

(True story).

Which brings us to now.

This doctor, let’s call him Dr. Bob, has scared nurses away, has thrown fits and demanded a member of his team be taken off his team and has literally walked away from a full clinic for technical issues.

Now granted, let’s be perfectly fair here, he has worked with some less than intelligent people. It could be that he has scared the common sense right out of these people, but for whatever reasons, they haven’t satisfied his level of competence, I suppose. Whatever the reason, he has gone through A LOT of people. His current nurse, who we all liked, including Dr. Bob, had to quit due to family issues. We are all VERY sorry to see her go, she was a good match. But life happens. There’s not much you can do about it. And his medical assistant has reached her limit, which honestly, I don’t blame her for not wanting to work with him anymore so now Dr. Bob doesn’t have a nurse, or a medical assistant.

Management is scrambling to try and fill those holes. I don’t envy them that job. But in the interim, he has to have someone run his clinic.

My doctor, who I adore and work very hard to take care of, is in clinic on Mondays and Wednesday, he does surgery the rest of the week. Dr. Bob’s clinic days are Mondays and Thursdays.

I can’t cover him on Mondays, I have my doctor to take care of, (THANK GOD), but that means I CAN cover him on Thursdays.

And management caught me, literally as I was walking out the door on Friday, to tell me I would be covering his Thursday clinic this next week.

And I’m foreseeing, because I’m a big picture sort of gal, that I will be his Thursday coverage for quite some time because it’s hard enough to get anyone to apply for a medical assistant job, let alone get hired.

*sigh* Awesome.

A few years ago, I would have been absolutely petrified about this turn of events. I have covered him a few times over the years, but honestly, I don’t really know him and though he probably recognizes my face, I bet he doesn’t know my name. That’s fine, whatever. I’m not being paid to be the man’s BFF, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to thinking about next week, pretty much non-stop this entire weekend.

And by thinking I mean, planning. Mentally giving myself a pep talk.

I’m not really nervous, per se, but I’m definitely not looking forward to it. I’ve been doing this job for a while now and I’m pretty confident in my abilities and honestly, I don’t give a rat’s ass if he likes me or not, I just want to do the best job I can possibly do and move on.

I guess I’m just bummed that we have, once again, reached this impasse with Dr. Bob. Surely he sees the common denominator when it comes to his staff, he’s not stupid. I suppose he just doesn’t care.

One silver lining to this situation, his mid-level is a sweetheart. He can at least act as a buffer between me and Dr. Bob. I have no intentions of interacting with Dr. Bob, and I’m quite certain Dr. Bob will not interact with me, if he needs to tell me something, he’ll tell his nurse to tell me.

(True story).

But I’m perfectly fine with that. And when, (because it will happen), he throws a temper tantrum about something, I will simply wait for him to finish his temper tantrum and continue on my merry way.

DR. BOB WILL NOT DEFEAT ME.

I’ll keep ya’ll updated.

Reflections, Work Stuff

Thinking Outside Yourself

I was recently told by someone I see nearly on a daily basis:

“I like your blog. You’re a good writer and I really enjoy reading your work. You should write a how-to-live manual.”

(Hi Tiff)

I don’t know if she said those exact words, but that’s the take away from what I heard.

First of all, it’s SUPER weird to be outed by someone in real life. Sure, Kevin, my mom, possibly my sister, knows about my blog but I cringe whenever they mention anything about what I wrote in my blog. I honestly try to walk the tightrope between being honest, fair and authentic without coming across as a know-it-all bitch. Pretty sure I fail most of the time.

When you have a presence, or lack thereof in my case, online, when you carve out a piece of cyber space and make it your own, you really don’t think about how people in your real life would react to this “persona” you’ve developed, or nurtured, online. You feel safe because the web is so massive and anonymous, right?

Not really. Not truly. There are ways of secret identities bleeding into your reality. And when that happens, you just have to grab the exposure by the balls and own up to it. I try really hard to live by my own rules – don’t write anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. It’s definitely not my first choice to tell people what I really think but if push comes to shove, here’s my thought: don’t ask me if you really don’t want to know because, sweetie, I’ll tell you.

Some of this bravado comes with age, though to be honest, I’ve pretty much always been the sort of person who just doesn’t give a shit about what someone thinks of me. True, I may not have been as bold in the past and the degree of my bravado may have changed over the years but my motto has always been, on some level – I am who I am – take it or leave it. 

Because baby, if you leave it, then I didn’t want it to begin with.

I think this mind shift started in high school. I secretly wanted to be part of the popular crowd but I never was. I was one of those fringe people who just stood on the outskirts of … everything. I wasn’t popular, goth, nerdy or super smart. I had just enough personality, instinct, common sense and grit to somehow fit in with every group. A chameleon, I suppose.

And I feel like I’m like that now. I can get along with everyone, truly. Now that doesn’t mean I LIKE everyone I “get along with,” in fact, it’s safe to say most people truly get on my nerves. I don’t TRULY like very many people. I feel like people nowadays are self centered, selfish, whiny, lazy, and looking for excuses to excuse away poor planning, time management or simply incompetence.

I feel like most people have a hard time thinking outside their existence and that attitude and inability, or unwillingness, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, or be emphatic to someone’s plight totally and completely TURNS. ME. OFF.

Which leads me to the reason for this blog post.

Though I was flattered that my real-life person said the above thing to me, it got me thinking. Why would she say that? What is it about what I have to say that she finds refreshing or worth spending her valuable time reading?

Again, I’m not especially smart. I’m not Gandhi – I don’t have any life-changing wisdom to share though I suppose if you want to count age then perhaps the mere fact that I’m more “mature” (i.e. older than most of the people I work with) could count as “wisdom”.

I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this in older blog posts but I wonder if what Tiff sees is my ability (ability – *snort* like I’m some sort of sage) to think outside of myself.

Now don’t think this means I’m a super-giving person or self-sacrificing servant, no, I’m not. In fact, I’m incredibly selfish with my time and if I don’t want to do something, I’ll flat out tell you I’m not interested, in a nice way, of course. I’m not one of those people who like to disguise my disinterest in partaking of an activity I’m less than enthusiastic about simply to be polite and says, “Sorry. I really don’t have time for that.”

Bullshit. Just tell me. You’re not interested. Don’t try and sugar coat it and try and make yourself look more important than you think you are in your head. You have time for ANYTHING if you WANT to make the time for it.

If you don’t want to do something, then simply say, “no thanks. I’m not interested.” Okay, thanks, got it. This whole “I don’t have time to do that” , or, “Gee, I WISH I had time to do that.” just pisses me off and makes you look superficial, fake, condescending and stupid. You’re no busier than I am, I just choose to spend my time on activities that interest me. If you don’t, that’s your problem. Prioritize your time.

But I digress.

One of the best pieces of advice, or lessons, that my mom taught me is to have empathy for people – train yourself to look at the situation from the other person’s perspective.

I feel like this is a foreign concept in today’s world. Today, it’s all about ME. And NOW. Or WHAT I’M FEELING AT THIS MOMENT.

I think that’s evidenced by people assuming you care about the latest baby picture, or family drama, or emotion of the moment.

I get feeling proud. I get wanting to share excitement when something great happens in one’s life, but I also feel like most of these same people don’t take time to ask, “Hey, how are YOU feeling?” “How is YOUR family?” “What can I do to help YOU today?”

If it’s not about them, then they are not interested.

It’s sad, annoying and exhausting.

I don’t like to talk about myself much at work. I bet there are less than five people who can tell you the names of my husband and boys. On one hand, it’s sad but on the other, I haven’t exactly offered that information either.

I’ve always told the boys, if you can’t think of anything to say in a group setting, just ask the person about themselves – people LOVE to talk about themselves.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing – just that it’s the normal thing nowadays. People are truly not interested in hearing about something that doesn’t involve them, or something they’re interested in. I’m guilty of this as well, I admit.

But I feel like I have to constantly interject whenever someone comes to me with a problem, or the person needs to get something off her chest about something or someone and remind said person that there are two sides to a story.

Have they taken the time to look at that side?

Have you?

I’m not talking about just at work. I’m talking about society as a whole. Would we have the political divide we have now if people would just stop and CONSIDER the viewpoint from the other side? I’m not saying that you have to change the way you think or your opinion on something just by looking at the other side, but I do think that people would make better decisions or at least understand why something is done if we made it a habit of looking outside ourselves.

I think exercising a little empathy would help society be more patient, understanding and compassionate, but we’re all so ready to think badly of one another when again, unless you’ve walked in the shoes of that other person, you really have no right to make assumptions.

I wonder if that is what my friend was trying to say about my writing. Because I do make a CONSCIOUS effort to stop, think and reverse roles for a minute in my writing because I think it’s important to at least see all sides to a story before coming to a conclusion.

I may not change my mind, or your mind, but at least I UNDERSTAND where that other person is coming from. Ultimately, I feel like that helps guide me, people, society to come up with better solutions.

Or – maybe I’m overthinking this whole thing and she was just trying to be nice.