The Importance Of A Healthy Doctor-Patient Relationship

The Importance Of A Healthy Doctor-Patient Relationship

How my surgeon shattered the image of hardhearted physicians.

Many of us go through life choosing to be blissfully oblivious about our health and safety. We ignore the “Apple a day keeps the doctor away,” advice; even when something goes wrong and we force ourselves to go to the doctor, we tend to let the professionals do all the talking. As passive patients, we allow the doctor to have full control over the conversation, allow him or her to make the recommendations and ask the questions. But on an even more worrisome note, we deny that anything could ever go wrong and that we would ever need to put ourselves in the uncomfortable position of communicating with our doctor in the first place.

I had always been a seemingly healthy – mentally, physically, socially – child. I rarely got sick, I hardly ever needed to visit the doctor; which was fortunate considering my mother’s bouts with seizures and my father’s persistent heart problems. Like many young children, I assumed nothing as bad as what happened to them, could ever happen to me. But, when I hit puberty at an early age, my disillusion was brought to an abrupt halt. I was in sixth grade when my mother began noticing that my posture was getting worse and worse. My parents would yell at me to sit up straight, and when I responded, ‘I am,’ their faces would suddenly reek of concern. Overly cautious, my mother brought me to the pediatrician to do a scoliosis test. She knew the signs for she had a mild case of it herself when she was in her pre-teens. My encounter with the pediatrician was less than helpful. From what little I remember of the visit, when she asked me to bend over, her eyes widened and she gave my mother the name of a highly recommended orthopedic surgeon in our town, sending us on our way.

As a scared, insecure thirteen-year-old girl, the idea of having something wrong with my spine – wrong with me – was petrifying. Appearance is everything to a sixth-grade girl who is desperately trying to find her place in a suddenly mature world. After talks with my mother and researching scoliosis on the internet, I discovered my only options were to wear a brace for a year or more, or surgery – two things I was completely unprepared for. I’d seen more of the inside of hospitals with all my parents’ and grandparents’ health issues than some have seen in a lifetime, the last thing I wanted was to experience it for myself.

Stepping into the orthopedic surgeon’s office for the first time was like stepping into a nightmare from which there was no falling from a high point and jolting myself awake. There were dozens of people in the waiting room, some whose deformities were hidden like mine and others with braces on their legs and walking with canes. As the nurse called out my first name to take me to the x-ray room – mispronouncing it horrendously, might I add – I kept trying to convince myself that this whole endeavor would be a waste of time, that there would be nothing wrong.

After the x-rays, I met my doctor for the first time. I’d been expecting an old man who would walk in, refuse to make eye contact with me in my backless robe, and deliver the sad news without any emotion, like many I had seen take care of my parents in the past. Thankfully, I received the opposite. I received Dr. Jonathon Carmouche, the epitome of young, tall, and handsome. He walked in with a smile on his face, began shaking my hand and then my mother’s, seeming eager and pleased to make my acquaintance. Before even addressing my potential ailment, he began asking me about myself - not just what grade I was in -but my interests, my family, and my friends. He seemed to be taking a genuine interest in me as both a patient and a human being

Eventually, he got to the reason for the visit in the first place. He lit up the x-ray of a back with a spine in the shape of an ‘S,’ and told me and my mother that it looked like I had a significant curvature that would need to be corrected. He looked at us, inquisitive, wondering if we had any questions if I had any questions. I could not ask questions. I could not breathe. Feeling like my world had been shattered, I began to cry. Instead of leaving the room or looking away, my doctor apologized and said he understood how I must have been feeling, then offered me a box of tissues. This small act of human kindness proved to me that not all doctors were the same. Not all of them wanted to get in, give a diagnosis, and get out, paying no mind at all to how the patient feels or reacts to the news. Because it was obvious that he truly cared about me, I relaxed. I started to ask questions, interact with him, and the easier it became to talk to my doctor like the human being he is, the easier it was to accept he was not an emotionless robot, and thankfully the easier my condition became to swallow.

Over the next three years, Dr. Carmouche and I developed a very special doctor-patient relationship. As we got to know one another better, I became more and more comfortable speaking with him about concerns about my condition and about my life in general. Instead of being scared of going to appointments, I looked forward to them. My doctor was a busy man with numerous other patients, yet always found extra time to stay and talk with me, without lingering by the door and acting as if he had better places to be. He was always excited to see me and remained ever optimistic about the progress I was making.

It was inevitable that the brace I wore for a year – the brace that required baggy clothes and sweaty night sleeps – would not fix the sixty-degree curve entirely; I would still need surgery. As terrifying as that concept was, the support from my family as well as my doctor enabled me to go into surgery with the confidence that everything would work out. After my nine and a half hour surgery, I emerged a few inches taller, with a straighter spine. He visited me daily during my week in the hospital, checking each time to make sure I wasn’t in too much pain and to encourage me to start walking the day after my surgery. Before I was discharged, I had to do one more x-ray; this time with two titanium rods lining my spine. As my doctor showed my family and I the new and improved x-rays, he went on about how great the surgery went and how I would have no limitations or problems in the future. But if I did, he assured me that he would always be there. He explained that I was to have follow-up appointments, each one fewer and further between. Before leaving, but not before my parents thanked him immensely for everything he’d done, he gave me a hug goodbye.

The last time I saw Dr. Carmouche, it was a very teary goodbye; I was a junior in high school for my last follow-up appointment. Over the years, I was one of his “favorite patients.” He had watched me grow up from a scared little girl in middle school to a confident young woman. Before, I was a child, only a two-year veteran of middle school, meek, self-doubting, and entirely unaware of all that I would accomplish in my high school years to come. I have him to thank for the medical and emotional support it took for me to be the person I am today. It is also because of my experience with Dr. Carmouche, that I chose to focus on the health aspect of communication for my bachelor’s degree.

The encompassment of physical, psychological, and social impacts of an illness or ailment of some kind is widely overlooked by many doctors in the healthcare industry today. As a society, we have come to expect little interaction from our doctors. We refuse to ask questions; we listen to medical jargon we cannot remotely hope to understand, all because we are given the impression by our doctors that anything other than our physical ailment is irrelevant. What many physicians fail to understand is that patients’ emotions are just as significant to a condition as the physical aspects. A positive ‘bedside manner’ is all but obsolete. I was lucky enough to find a doctor who made my priorities – having a straight spine and confidence in myself – his own. My triumphs became his, and this is a rarity among many in the healthcare field nowadays. Unfortunately, there is little we as patients can do to effect the way our physician interacts with us. However, we patients can have just as much power as the doctors. This power stems from simple facets of one-on-one communication. We must ask questions, not be told what is important for us to know about our bodies. We must be assertive and voice our concerns. And we must take an active role in our healthcare until it is the majority of doctors demonstrating the same type of care as Dr. Carmouche did for me; until the majority of doctors are just as invested in patient satisfaction as we are in their ability to heal.

Cover Image Credit: Sacramento Magazine

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To All The Nurses In The Making

We tell ourselves that one day it'll all pay off, but will it actually?

I bet you’re taking a break from studying right now just to read this, aren’t you? Either at the library with friends or in your dorm room. Wherever you may be, you never get the chance to put your books down, at least that’s how it feels to most of us. It sucks feeling like you’ve chosen the hardest major in the world, especially when you see other students barely spending any time studying or doing school work. The exclamation “You’re still here!” is an all too frequent expression from fellow students after recognizing that you’ve spent 10-plus hours in the library. At first it didn’t seem so bad and you told yourself, “This isn’t so difficult, I can handle it,” but fast-forward a few months and you’re questioning if this is really what you want to do with your life.

You can’t keep track of the amount of mental breakdowns you’ve had, how much coffee you’ve consumed, or how many times you’ve called your mom to tell her that you’re dropping out. Nursing is no joke. Half the time it makes you want to go back and change your major, and the other half reminds you why you want to do this, and that is what gets you through it. The thing about being a nursing major is that despite all the difficult exams, labs and overwhelming hours of studying you do, you know that someday you might be the reason someone lives, and you can’t give up on that purpose. We all have our own reasons why we chose nursing -- everyone in your family is a nurse, it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, you’re good at it, or like me, you want to give back to what was given to you. Regardless of what your reasoning is, we all take the same classes, deal with the same professors, and we all have our moments.

I’ve found that groups of students in the same nursing program are like a big family who are unconditionally supportive of each other and offer advice when it’s needed the most. We think that every other college student around us has it so easy, but we know that is not necessarily true. Every major can prove difficult; we’re just a little harder on ourselves. Whenever you feel overwhelmed with your school work and you want to give up, give yourself a minute to imagine where you’ll be in five years -- somewhere in a hospital, taking vitals, and explaining to a patient that everything will be OK. Everything will be worth what we are going through to get to that exact moment.

Remember that the stress and worry about not getting at least a B+ on your anatomy exam is just a small blip of time in our journey; the hours and dedication suck, and it’s those moments that weed us out. Even our advisors tell us that it’s not easy, and they remind us to come up with a back-up plan. Well, I say that if you truly want to be a nurse one day, you must put in your dedication and hard work, study your ass off, stay organized, and you WILL become the nurse you’ve always wanted to be. Don’t let someone discourage you when they relent about how hard nursing is. Take it as motivation to show them that yeah, it is hard, but you know what, I made it through.

With everything you do, give 110 percent and never give up on yourself. If nursing is something that you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life, stick with it and remember the lives you will be impacting someday.

SEE ALSO: Why Nursing School Is Different Than Any Other Major

Cover Image Credit: Kaylee O'Neal

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12 Lessons Being The 'Sick Kid' Has Taught Me

It can be pretty awful at times, but the life lessons you learn are invaluable.


Every school has that one person who looks completely fine, but suddenly misses 3 weeks in the middle of the semester because they've come down with some weird illness. Or maybe they were suddenly diagnosed with a new autoimmune disorder... Every. Single. Semester. Then they suddenly come back, maybe looking a little worse for wear, pushing through finals week only to spend the summer getting better.

It's definitely an interesting process for the people around them, but it's miserable for the person going through it. Your social life comes crashing down, some days you're in just too much pain to move, and yet you're expected to move through all of it so that you look "normal" to everyone around you. One or two of these episodes or illnesses may not be too bad, but once you've hit five or more, it goes from "wow this sucks" to "why does my body hate me so much? I've done absolutely nothing to cause this."

That being said, I wouldn't change my experiences with my health for the world. Sure, at least two of my health conditions could kill me if I wasn't careful and a third one causes absolutely horrific pain every now and again, but the lessons I've learned by being the"sick kid" have made me a better person.

1. No matter what a person looks like, they may be struggling—and being there to support them is vital

An Invisible disability can be anything from a food allergy to cancer, but as a general rule you would never be able to tell that they had health issues by just looking at them. Offering your support to those around you, even your acquaintances, can make a world of difference.

2. Pain is not a laughing matter

For the average person, pain fades quickly and doesn't occur too regularly; this means that when your friend is complaining about something like an upset stomach or a headache, you just tell them to take some ibuprofen and move on with your day. I was the exact same way until I was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, a rare nerve disorder where the pain exceeds childbirth according to the McGill University Pain Scale. Acknowledging that pain is real and important, regardless of its severity, is incredibly important to anyone hurting.

3. The smartest kid in the room may still need help with their academics

I've always excelled in school, so you would never guess that my grades tend to slip whenever I'm stressed, sick, or in pain. When a friendly acquaintance who sat in front of me in ethics took notes for me a week that I was sick, it truly helped more than anyone could have imagined. Even if someone doesn't look like they need it, offering them more resources will never hurt.

4. Fear isn't always rational, and that's okay

I've used needles for for my medical care. I have blood work every three months, poke myself with a big needle every seven days, and poke myself with a pretty small one every three. Thing is, after 18 years, I still almost pass out every time I see a needle coming my direction. So your fear of cats may be completely irrational, but so is my fear of needles—and that is completely fine.

5. Don't ever compare your struggles

I've been told more than once that I have too many diagnoses for someone who's only 21. I've been told by doctors that I've been dealt a bad hand, by nurses that they didn't usually see a medical list as long as mine at my age, by medical assistants that my medication list is complex... but I don't have cancer, right? I can still walk, too, so I shouldn't be complaining. Thing is, two problems can exist at once. My friend's sadness over her botched haircut is as equally valid as me crying over a new diagnosis. And that's okay.

6. What's easy for me may be hard for someone else

I can walk most of the times. I can hear very clearly. Unfortunately, I cannot regulate my body temperature very well. That's easy for most people, but I need to take extra precautions in certain weather conditions because of this. Just like I have problems with something that people tend to consider simple, other people may struggle with reading, gardening, or playing certain video games. Rather than getting frustrated, it's better to offer them help and understand that it may take them a little longer.

7. Just listening can go a long way

Let's be honest here: unless you've lived through it, you'll never understand it. This goes for anything. Rather than talking about you're grandmother's second-cousin's uncle's step-son who herded cattle and went through something vaguely similar, just letting the person know you're there can work wonders. If you feel as if the problem is too much for you an your friend to tackle alone, suggesting classroom accommodations, mental health specialists, nonprofit support groups, or even Facebook groups can help show that you're listening and invested in their well being.

8. Ask before touching

Physical touch can be very painful for me some days. As much as I would love to hug you and congratulate you on your promotion, I need to watch out for my health and safety. I don't know what someone's been through, if they may have any medical implants that hurt when I press on them, or if they may have allodynia; even if I've been friends with them for years, asking if I can touch them is a way to avoid hurting both them and our friendship.

9. The smallest actions make the biggest impacts

When I'm stuck in bed, at another specialist's office, or waiting to hear back about imaging, getting a silly little GIF or a phone call from a friend makes all the difference in the world. It can make me smile while crying, get me engaged when I'm otherwise horribly upset, and remind me that someone's thinking about me when I feel otherwise alone. By taking 30 seconds out of my day to touch in with those I care about, I can help them feel loved as well.

10. Not everyone is going to be understanding or helpful—but I should always be

Ever since middle school, I've personally faced incidences where doctors, teachers, and peers have shrugged off my health concerns. Even when I had a doctor's note stating that I needed to be on bed rest for several weeks after surgery, many of the people around me were unwilling to acknowledge that I needed help or even that the bed rest was necessary. Even if I don't necessarily understand the circumstances, offering a helping hand is the right thing to do in any circumstance.

11. The "real world" WILL help you

In high school, my teachers would always say that the "real world" wouldn't help you if you couldn't keep up. Well, surprise, it did. The real world is more strict with deadlines, but there are also more people willing to offer you their support if you're looking in the right spots. When people have a shared goal, they won't let you fall behind.

12. You can never hold me (or anyone else) back just because I'm "disabled"

I will succeed in life, no matter what. It may take a little bit more time and energy to get things done, but I can make it through as long as I keep moving.

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