life lessons in talking to doctors 5.20.11
One of the hard parts of taking your mother in for surgery is the awkwardness of referring to her in the third person while she’s sitting right next to you.
Before he operated on my mother’s shoulder, the surgeon stopped in talk to us and answer questions. I appreciated the fact that he made communication a part of his routine. He told us what he would be doing, how long it would take, and what to do that night when I brought Mom home. He even drew a picture of the broken bone. The only problem was he talked almost exclusively to me. My mom sat and listened. I figured, well, I am asking the questions, he’s just answering them. But I didn’t like talking about her while she sat three feet away. I went away thinking it was a language problem: if only we had a pronoun that covered “her”, “you”, and “me” in one word. Then he could have talked to both of us at once.
I got a different perspective two weeks later. We were in an outpatient office and another surgeon was assessing Mom’s collarbone to see if she needed more surgery. In contrast to the first, the second surgeon kept his eyes focused on my mother. Even when my sister and I asked questions, he directed his answers to Mom as if she had asked them. I liked that. There she was in a Johnny surrounded by the rest of us in our street clothes. I know they serve a utilitarian purpose but there’s nothing like a flimsy gown that opens in the back to transform a thinking human being into a helpless patient. This doctor’s focus on Mom kept her in the room, acknowledging her intelligence and role as the decision maker.
Mom has a follow-up appointment with her first surgeon tomorrow. I’ll be with her, both as her driver and a second set of ears. But this time I think I’ll hang back and let the conversation be between my mother and her doctor.