Dear Doctor, Please Don’t Assume I Have Time.

The other day I was at an appointment, and when we were trying to find a day after my bloodwork to go over the results, the doctor said, “You don’t have a job, do you?” I am a full-time student so I said no, not at the moment. Apparently, she didn’t catch the full-time student part, and then said, “Right, then you can come in this day at this time, no problem.” She had made the appointment before I had a chance to respond.

This might sound silly, but this exchange played on my mind for a long time afterward. Just because I am not employed right now does not mean I am not busy. Just because I do not have a 9-5 job does not mean that I should not be asked about what time might suit me best. Perhaps I was taking my sick mother to her appointment that day or visiting a friend or attending a lecture or having a different appointment. The list goes on.

There are a lot of reasons why this disturbed me. First of all, being chronically ill can most definitely count as a full-time job, in my opinion. I have many different doctors and appointments and it’s a struggle to make it all fit, especially when they all have this similar attitude when scheduling. Secondly, in that type of rushed and dismissive interaction, the doctor demonstrates to me that they do not see my time as valuable. They don’t ask whether I have the time or whether I am able to come at that time. In fact, it might be just as well because with the pressure on the system, it might be the only appointment available for a long time.

This brings me to my third point: that we as patients are treated in a way that forces us to be uber grateful for any appointment we are lucky enough to get. There have been other times like this one where I have said I really cannot make that time, and they kind of shrug and say, “Well then you’re going to suffer more because the next available time is three weeks off. You really should take what I’m offering.” This then leads me to panic. Should I take the appointment that I really can’t go to and thank the doctor profusely because I don’t have to wait in agony for three weeks? Then I will proceed to attempt to cancel whatever plans I had for the time of the coveted appointment. If I’m being very harsh, the doctor should actually be thanking me for my flexibility and/or even apologizing for the backup at the practice rather than making me feel guilty for taking up another slot in their schedule.

I have seen a lot of doctors and they have made a lot of wrong assumptions about me. Some are dangerous to my health, but some, like this one, are just insensitive and make me feel like I’m not valued as a person or a patient. Assuming they can see what my life looks like based on the fact that I do not or cannot work and thus assuming that I have nothing more in my life than following the schedule of appointments that suits them best makes me feel like they are not hearing me or understanding me.

I understand that healthcare systems everywhere are under extreme pressure at the moment. I know that appointment scheduling is really an art. But I would still very much appreciate the extra 30 seconds to confirm with me that I really can make that appointment, or even to ask what my daily life looks like, rather than make assumptions about it and in the process insult me by implying that I have an empty life.

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