Said no one ever. This is a long post, I apologize.
A month or two ago, I noticed a few small nodules in my left axilla (armpit) while doing a self-exam in the shower. This happened with my first pregnancy and was told then that these were normal lymph nodes that are common in pregnancy. I also am well aware that many women also get diagnosed with breast cancer more frequently due to the increase in estrogen from pregnancy hormones.
I am a few years older and had a few more nodules compared to the last time. My OB ordered a left breast ultrasound at the fancy breast center on campus. The only available appointment was almost a month after my visit. Then shortly after my visit with the OB, I felt a very small but noticeable small nodule in my right axilla. Now I was freaking out! I talked with my OB who then ordered bilateral ultrasounds.
Trying to get out of work to make appointments in the middle of the afternoon is stressful. The latest possible time was 2:30pm with a check-in time of 2:10. Yeah right, who’s going to show up at 2:10 to check in? I’d be lucky to make it on time to the appointment! I was 4th out of 5 people scheduled that day. I had asked the 5th/5 person to trade with me but he also had made an appointment for that afternoon. It looked like a light enough day but things never go according to plan when you have an appointment.
I stalked the computer all day for possible add-ons, to see when the other cases were starting and finishing, etc. I really wanted to make this appointment! I even asked the charge nurse to please try to hold off on calling me unless it was a serious emergency because there was a very important appointment I needed to make (they all knew I was pregnant).
My scheduled cases went as planned (whew!) and no add-ons for anyone yet (YES!) and I book to the appointment and arrived earlier than the requested check-in time. I fill out paperwork, sit in a nice fancy lobby with a handful of women of diverse ages (no one pregnant) and get called to registration to present my ID/insurance card, verify the procedure I’m getting done.
The nice somewhat elderly receptionist says I’m here for a left breast ultrasound. I respond, I’m here for a bilateral exam. She says she doesn’t see it in the computer (no EPIC yet) but somehow finds it. She says something like I’ll have to verify if you can have the procedure done today because today you’re only scheduled for the Left. She gets up and leaves and says she’ll be back.
Nice receptionist: You’re going to have to reschedule because they have to go with the updated order of bilateral ultrasound and they didn’t schedule enough time for both sides today.
Me: Is there any way I can at least do the left side and reschedule for the right? It’s very hard for me to schedule appointments because of my work schedule.
NR: I’m sorry we can’t do that because we can only go by the updated order.
Me: (As I’m getting supremely red in the face and starting to get hot/bothered because I knew my schedule the next few weeks was going to be really hard). I have had these nodes for the last few months, I just found a bigger node yesterday and I have been waiting a month for this ultrasound and it has very stressful. And I started to tear up.
As this is going on, I am well aware there is NO privacy in this lobby/reception area and everyone could hear my business. But I did not care!
NR gets up and says, Let me see what I can do. And I apologize and blame my hormones and she pats me on the back.
She comes back a few minutes later with another lady. She brings me around the corner where there are some chairs and she tells me the same thing, that there’s a time slot at 9:30am on Thursday for me to get my bilateral ultrasound. I knew, for sure, this Thursday would not work and especially at 9:30am!?! So I tell her again, as a physician it is very hard for me to schedule appointments at these early times, I’ve been waiting a month for this exam and please is there any way someone could squeeze me in? I’ll wait here until the end of the day! Her facial expression doesn’t give me any hope but she says she’ll ask.
She comes back and Hallelujah! They’re going to squeeze me in! She shows me to the back where I can change, put my stuff and where the nice fancy lounge with tea is and I’m called shortly thereafter for my ultrasound!!!
While I’m changing into my lovely pink robe, I’m beginning to feel slightly guilty that I cried and made a fuss about getting seen. HTH do patients schedule appointments? Do they work? What do they do about their jobs? Everyone here had to do something to get there so what makes me special? Everyone is stressed about getting a test done for possible cancer or check-ups from cancer!
The ultrasound tech is a nice young happy woman and we’re chatting while she scans my right and left axilla. She says they look like normal lymph nodes. I trust her as I’m sure she’s seen a lot of normal/abnormal exams but I was going to keep my expectations low until I heard from the doctor/person who reads the ultrasound. Who reads the exams anyway? How long would I have to wait? A few more weeks? The tech says, Let me show these images to the radiologist to see if the images are good enough, I’ll be right back.
Next thing I know, the radiologist comes in, introduces himself and tells me my little masses are all normal lymph nodes! I then say ‘People in medicine make the worst patients’ and I told him I’m an anesthesiologist and we chatted and laughed about how doctors make the worst patients. I said, “I even cried in front because of this built-up stress.” He laughed and replied, “I heard,” but it seemed like they thought it was funny.
As I left, I gave the nice receptionist a hug and apologized again for my emotions. She smiled and seemed happy for me… happy that I was leaving!
I was that patient. All this stress about what these nodules could be, with a baby on the way and worry about our futures, stress about making this appointment, getting in ‘trouble’ with my peers if an emergency/add-on case came in, potentially having to wait another month with the unknown? I knew my tears were not only because of the pregnancy hormones. I almost walked out of there with nothing but my anger and frustration.
As I drove home, I felt torn/guilty about what had transcribed in the past hour. Was it my tears? Was it the professional courtesy? What if I had been a 70-year-old patient who needed to coordinate a ride from an assisted living or nursing home? A lot of ‘What ifs’ ran through my mind and I realized, I am not a good patient. I was very thankful I was seen that day and felt more empathy for patients. I vowed to try to be a more patient patient and doctor.
I came home to a napping Jacob and was able to take a nap as well. Oh how I love naps. I woke up to my happy toddler and gave him a big fat hug. We played, watched a movie and enjoyed a nice mandoo (Korean dumplings) dinner.
Thanks for reading to the end! Have you ever had any encounters with patients like me? Or been one of those patients yourself? What did you do/say in these circumstances?