Waiting to see the doctor is never anyone’s first choice. It is often a mixture of wasted time and frustration and, perhaps more importantly, anxiety about the encounter and what the doctor will do, find, or advise. However, in the present disease-prevention era, when we are attempting to diagnose and treat problems before complications ensue or, even better, prevent disease in the first place, seeing a doctor sometime in one’s life is a necessity for virtually all of us. Seeing the doctor is much more imperative when symptoms are present than when the patient feels entirely well. But screening for some hidden states, such as high blood pressure, early stages of cancer, i.e., cervical, breast, colon, possibly prostate, and even lung cancer has the advantage of preventing the disastrous outcome of undiagnosed and thus untreated diseases, which if diagnosed in time could be cured.
Only two days ago, I had to see the doctor myself. Without going into detail, the issue was the need for a bronchoscopy which most readers will recognize is the insertion of a flexible tube through the nose and into the air passages for the purpose of observing for abnormalities such as tumors, etc., and to obtain material from which infectious agents might be isolated. Since I am a pulmonologist, you might imagine that I would have no anxieties about such a procedure. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fear of the unknown and the obvious dislike of pain and discomfort, and just the time it takes, are all negatives. Nonetheless, like everyone else I had to face up to reality and go to see the doctor. Fortunately he was a former trainee of mine, an expert Denver pulmonologist, and a skilled bronchoscopist.
So I arrived at the diagnostic suite a little early as any Type A personality would do, signed in by filling in my name, date of birth, social security number, insurance carrier, and phone number just like several people before me had done. Then I sat and waited for about 30 minutes before I was called by the nurse. During that 30 minutes I reflected upon my own patients and how they must feel as they wait to see me, although I make every effort to be prompt and usually am. Nonetheless it takes only a mini-second to reflect upon one’s fears, concerns, and apprehensions about what might be found. Doctors are not immune from these normal human feelings.
The procedure itself went quite smoothly and fortunately nothing serious was present. What a sense of relief! After the anesthesia wore off and a colleague drove me home, and when I was steady enough on my feet, I felt the usual tranquility which comes from knowledge that probably nothing serious was amiss. After all, seeing the doctor usually gives more good news than bad in the great majority of instances.
I will be in touch next month.
Thomas Petty, MD