This is the eighth entry in my in-depth interview with a patient undergoing cancer treatment.
There is no doubt that illness, injury, and recovery from surgery pose life-altering inconveniences for the patient. In fact, because it is so significant to the patient experience, many patient satisfaction surveys ask questions about whether or not staff were sensitive to the inconvenience caused by the hospitalization.
When the treatment is several weeks in length, as it is for Elizabeth and other cancer patients, the need for sensitivity is heightened to an even greater extent. Talk about inconvenience. In many cases, the patient is uprooted completely from her home in order to get the care needed. In the following example, Elizabeth shared her reaction to a setback in treatment and how her physician presented the information.
I wasn’t able to have my chemo this week and was so disappointed. On the one hand, I was ecstatic that I didn’t have to go through the pain and discomfort, but, on the other hand, the delay means at least one more week that I have to be living away from home. I couldn’t see my own doctor, so learned about this via his new resident. She said that they couldn’t safely administer the chemo because of the rapid decline in my hemoglobin and hematocrit levels. The resident was really sweet and caring. She was surprised that I was so bummed about the chemo taking eight weeks now instead of the six weeks we had originally planned. She told me that I was doing very well to have completed four treatments in five weeks. She also advised me that I may well have another delay or two as the ending is always the toughest part of the whole regimen. She told me, “Don’t be so hung up on the discharge date. It will take what it takes.”
You know, that advice was actually helpful. It made sense. My treatment comes first. It’s not about an end date. It’s about getting better. I swear that if she had pitied me, I would have had a meltdown right there in her office. It was actually helpful that she reminded me to get my attention off the calendar and back onto the overall goal. This is about healing and it may just take longer than I had originally expected. Now, knowing that I could have even more delays at least helps me to emotionally prepare if that should happen.
I asked Elizabeth what made the encounter so positive in spite of the fact that she was getting disappointing news.
“She was clearly sensitive and caring. Even though her words may read like they are a bit flip, her attitude was nothing like that. She was clearly sensitive to how much the delay would affect my time away from home. That sensitivity is what really matters. When you are in this type of situation, you need information, but you also need to feel as though they care about you as a person, not just as a treatment.”
Walk down the halls of your hospital and consider just how many admissions are unexpected events; you’ll have an idea about just how many patients are dealing with the inconvenience of an unforeseen admission. Add to that the number of patients whose stay, although scheduled, has been lengthened due to complications of some sort, and you have quite a high percentage of your patients. When staff and physicians are sensitive to the patients’ situations, and offer support, encouragement, and empathy, the patient will be able to deal with setbacks and have a much better experience. Focusing on feeling better is what matters most.