It’s amazing how powerless you are as a patient. Yes, I know, the patient has rights, but all-in-all, when you enter the hospital you leave the comfortable “I’m in control of my life” feeling and have to believe in the people to whom you have entrusted your care. I have been very lucky to have received great care with all of my pregnancies, complications and all. But there is always one employee I will encounter that I wonder how they got in the field of medicine to begin with: The overworked nurse who has no compassion for the woman who just lost her baby but just wants to free up the hospital bed, the lactation consultant who forgot long ago (or became desensitized to) the angst a new mother faces as she tries to latch her baby the “correct” way onto her breast, or a young male resident who didn’t take a moment to consider the sensitive emotional needs of a woman in pre-term labor as well as the delicate nature of the female anatomy.
I have always hated to complain on behalf of myself in public. I would argue about others’ rights and make sure I did what was necessary for everyone to get a fair shake. But people would walk all over me. Maybe my time in the Air Force changed that, maybe I just grew up. I now speak up when nurses are fantastic (or even just pretty good) and when things have gone awry I mention that too. Does that make me a complainer? I don’t think so, I just expect to be treated well when I am hurting. And so should you. We all should.
Recently I was admitted to the hospital for pre-term labor (like so many millions of other women each year). I was frightened – it wasn’t the first time. The nurses were listening to me tell about my symptoms and were monitoring them, but contractions weren’t showing up well. When the young male resident stepped in to talk I instantly had a bad feeling. He was arrogant. He was dismissive. I wasn’t having contractions according to the monitors, he told me. I measured 0 centimeters that morning at my OB’s office. I was surely still 0 cm now. I insisted that he take a look, and he was surprised to find I had dilated to 1-2 cm in a few short hours, and was 50% effaced. Not normal for 30 weeks into a pregnancy.
Of course the world turned upside-down after that. Now they were taking me seriously. There were nurses everywhere, suddenly the contractions were increasing in frequency and severity, this baby couldn’t come tonight. The resident returned to do the Group B Strep external swab. No biggie, right? Wrong. I.V. – no problem. Swab? Whoa, Buddy! What are you doing? I must have made some sound from the pain and he asked me what the problem was. “You stabbed me! That’s the problem!” I couldn’t help but blurt out in my stressed state. He muttered a brief, “Sorry”, under his breath and left the room. I immediately knew this was not the doc for me. (Not to mention that my husband looked like he might rip the resident’s head right off.) I rehashed the details for the nurse and told her I really didn’t want him to touch me again. “No problem”, she stated, and continued to say that someone else would take care of me. And someone would address his behavior with him.
Did I feel horribly guilty to deny his care? Absolutely. I have always hated to hurt peoples’ feelings. But he was the professional and I trusted him to care for me. I didn’t see him again. Later a nurse told me he had previous complaints against him. Sounds like someone picked the wrong field. Anyway, the next day the nurse manager came to ask about my experiences thus far. I told her that everyone was phenomenal – except one resident. She documented it, thanked me for my candor, and set about to discuss the problem with the necessary people. Of course I don’t want to make trouble for him, but mostly I am concerned about every other woman he will treat after me. Now I know that maybe, just maybe, another woman will benefit from my discomfort. I like to think that, anyway.
Every woman, whether it is for preterm or full-term labor, must be her own advocate. If something happens to you, tell someone on the staff whom you trust will help you. Patients cannot be treated to less than the best care possible. If you care for another, such as a child or older family member, it is your responsibility to speak up for them, too. If we don’t stop worrying about being perceived as trouble makers by the staff, or about hurting a callous doctor’s feelings, we sacrifice our own self esteem. We lessen the importance of us and our bodies. Remember (just like we teach our children): It is your body and no one gets to touch it without your permission. Even a doctor. Request someone new. You will get it, and when you explain your case maybe you will prevent someone else from having the same experience after you.