As anyone who has ever spent time at a busy hospital knows, your appointment time and the time you are seen are sometimes hours apart. Reality and schedules do not often keep together. Over the years, I have seen many reactions to a delayed appointment and the range of emotions are as varied as the patients. No one likes to wait. Everyone’s time is important. Despite the efforts of many time management consultants, multiple new on time initiatives it remains a problem. One of the root causes of the problem is that you are dealing with people. The procedure that is scheduled for 45 minutes’ turns into an hour when an unexpected finding requires consultation with other experts. Patients are not kept waiting intentionally but it happens. Occasionally the system can work, and at that point it is important to remember why the health care team needs to actively listen to each patient and their individual needs.
It was 1:40 p.m. on a busy Friday afternoon. The next patient was scheduled to be in the room undergoing a palliative procedure that sole purpose was to make her feel better. She had flown in to have the procedure done and had a flight out at 5 p.m. There was eye rolling by some, mumbling by others, but some members of the team took it as a challenge. ” We will make this happen,” the nurse assured the patient. ” You will be in an Uber by 3:30 on the way back to the airport. ” This patient had a biopsy earlier in the week and the results would not be back for another week. She had been fighting cancer for several years and now it had started down an aggressive path. As she told her story from start to finish, it occurred to the nurse that her business-like attitude of not taking no for an answer, was the way she was fighting her cancer. It was not so much that she makes the flight, as it was that she felt you were working with her so she could have some control over a health situation that was quickly spiraling out of control.
The radiologist came in and after some non-invasive testing and comparing of her films could not find the fluid that would magically make her pain go away. After conferring with the patient’s team and lengthy discussions between all the team it was decided that there was not enough fluid to drain, no procedure on this day would make her feel better.
The doctors exited the room, the patient was momentarily flustered, when the nurse offered to page her primary oncologist so that they could discuss the plan going forward. The oncologist immediately called back and discussed with the patient for another 10 minutes the plan. There would be prescriptions to pick up, and a new medication regime as they waited for the biopsy results to come back. The patient was back in control. Now it was 2:45 how was she going to be in an Uber with her new medications by 3:30 as promised?
Gathering her luggage, a wheel chair and a nursing student, the nurse pushed her over to the pharmacy, which involved a series of elevators and bridges, a total of 3 city blocks apart. The pharmacist had received the prescriptions, and was in the process of filling them. The medications were ready at 3:23 p.m. The Uber was called, in the car at 3:29 p.m. Patient on way to airport, in control with a plan, and on time for her flight.
In life, it is often the little things that people help you with that you remember. No one knows the road ahead for any of us, putting yourself out for someone else will not cure her cancer, but it will help her control her journey, and plan and cope for whatever is ahead. Listening is important!