The other day I met a new doctor for the first time. I was seeing this specialist for something unrelated to my IBD (as George Michael says, I won't bore you with the details baby), so I was a little anxious. It's always quite a nerve wracking prospect meeting a new consultant because it feels like starting afresh again which can be a daunting and frustrating prospect. Another new person to bore with your sickly life story, another new rapport to try and clumsily build, and most worryingly; another person who might not believe you.
I have various specialists I see regularly for my various ailments along with one G.P., and by now I know them all pretty well. My sweet GP last saw me vomit unidentified black liquid in front of him then grab his cashmere sweater to steady myself and didn't bat an eyelid so we're pretty solid.
My I.B.D consultant is the best in the business, not just in my humble opinion either; he is a Professor of Gastroenterology at the University of Edinburgh and produced the first evidence that Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are related polygenic disorders. He's at the forefront of investigations into the genetics of Inflammatory Bowel disease and is passionate about finding a cure. I love him a little bit. When I see him I have to restrain myself from cuddling him. He is impressive for all he does for I.B.D patients but he is also an incredibly kind and gentle person. He listens intently, he remembers details, he understands what I don't say and helps to bring it out of me. That's a very rare and wonderful skill.
But back to my new Doctor. I was nervous about meeting this person because, well I'm always nervous meeting new people, but because I'm always a little apprehensive about how my medical worries will be taken. After many, many years of being disbelieved, brushed off and leaving doctors offices in tears, it's still a worry that history will repeat itself. I also never want to come across as a hypochondriac; it matters to me what they think of me and i wish it didn't. Now I'm older and hopefully a wee bit wiser I find it much easier to explain my symptoms and stand my ground when I feel I'm being underestimated. But it's not always so easy when you're using all your energy just to stay upright. Mr New-Doctor was charming and attentive and made me feel instantly at ease. He didn't rush me out of his office, he took time to get as much information as he could and even asked about my I.B.D for no other reason than kindness.
A lot gets lost in doctors offices because we feel under time constraints; we know we only have a small window with our expert and we need to get everything in in that few minutes OR ELSE. It's not doable to expect our doctors to go above and beyond for every patient, they are doing an incredibly difficult job under enormous pressures, but when they treat us as humans and not just a folder of medical notes it really shines through. My beloved Prof will run through my notes with me, then ask about my work, my home life and how I've been coping. He will remind me he knows when I'm really unwell and faking it and that I don't have to in his office. Nothing makes me feel more confident in his ability to treat me than when he sees me as 'me'. That and the fact that he keeps saving my life obviously.
When I sit in the sigh-heavy waiting room to see my consultant all I hear is fellow patients complaining. They complain about the waiting time, they badger the nurses for an update, they ask to see someone else, they mumble under their breath about how ridiculous it is they've been waiting x amount of minutes. I get so frustrated by this because, one I'm unhealthy as it is and I don't like being starved of oxygen thanks to the volume of audible sighs, and two it just all seems so unnecessary and a bit ungrateful. You are waiting to see probably the most knowledgeable person on your condition in the country who will help keep you healthy and in existence for as long as humanly possible, but you are FURIOUS because you're missing an episode of Cash in the Attic?
Doctors are on the whole incredible people who do a selfless job under extreme pressure. They are there to help us stay well, and when they take a little extra time to also make us feel like individuals, well that's pretty special. So the next time you're sighing enough to power a hot air balloon in the waiting room remember that behind the door there might be a terrified patient who will be leaving that office with a glimmer of hope. That might not steer you away you from impatient rage, but when you're the vulnerable one in the doctors office take a second to think about how lucky you are just to be there. I know I do.