“When will I go home?” asked the patient.
“Hopefully, by the end of the week, if everything goes well,” said the doctor.
“What do you mean by ‘if’?”
Uncertainty. It’s the one thing that is common among all hospital patients.
When is my discharge date?
How is my diagnosis affected by the other things I have going on?
How in the world will I pay my medical bills?
Why am I taking this many medications? What do they help me exactly?
When will I go back to work and do things like how I used to do them?
Where will I go after being discharged?
Can this uncertainty ever be erased? No, it can’t because we can never fully control all possible outcomes no matter how closely we micromanage. But, we can try to learn more about what is going on with ourselves medically to become better self-advocates.
Meeting face to face with our doctors in a hospital is daunting. We nonetheless trust that they will act in our best interests. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask questions that are on our minds.
Many patients do not have the medical knowledge that doctors do, so it’s vital to understand what is going on in words that you know.
If your physician explains something about your condition to you, try to summarize in your own words back to them. Doing this takes practice, but every effort to comprehend medical lingo in your own language is crucial to being confident in what’s going on and the next steps.
Something is wrong with your heart, say heart failure? Try to understand why the symptoms of leg swelling, weakness, and shortness of breath are linked to your heart, and why you are taking those water pills.
Sometimes, the condition is more complicated, like cancer, and it is okay to ask your physician if they can take the time to explain what is going on. It may be one of a few chances to gain insight into your current health status.
The information you get at first contributes to the pervasive feeling of uncertainty. But, as you start internalizing what you now know about your health condition, you will better know how to advocate for yourself.
You’ll know what questions to ask in regards to who to follow up with upon discharge. You’ll understand why you are taking the medications you are taking. If it is therapy (physical, occupational, speech) that you need, you’ll know why going to inpatient or outpatient therapy is beneficial for you after the diagnosis.
With that said, uncertainty can quickly turn into fear and panic if not addressed at the outset. It’s up to us as medical professionals to be that trusted voice to patients. We are open and willing to have conversations with our patients to dispel misconceptions about health conditions, such as COVID-19, explain the next steps after discharge, and support patients through their time of need.
Most of all, we must be more than just being kind to patients. Being kind is professional, but being caring, compassionate, and empathetic are traits of a great doctor.
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