I’m having some minor medical issues – relative to most others. Tomorrow, hopefully, this all ends with a minor outpatient surgical procedure. I am someone who has pretty severe medical anxiety, so while most other people would have gone on with their lives, I’ve been struggling with crippling anxiety for about 4 weeks now. Compounding the problem, my insurance agent dropped the ball, and even though I received health insurance cards, I wasn’t covered by the insurer, so this little adventure is all self-pay.
And healthcare in the US is so cheap… But this is a topic for a different blog post.
I had mostly got my anxiety in check when someone from Methodist Health System called this past Wednesday to review my medical history with me.
Now, this is the same information I provided when I initially went to urgent care; then, I repeated it to my primary care physician the next day. Three days later, I repeated it all to the nurse practitioner who saw me. Two weeks after that, I went over it all again, first with the surgeon’s nurse and then with the surgeon. By the time this person had me on the phone, I’d repeated the same information 5 times in less than a month. I’m assuming this incessant verification of information is to limit Methodist’s liability. From a patient’s standpoint, it’s obnoxious. For a person who has severe medical anxiety, it’s traumatizing and debilitating. You can’t tell me there isn’t a better way to design a healthcare system. For those of you living in other countries, is this normal?
Keep in mind; this is all happening inside the Methodist health system. It’s not like I’m jumping around between different systems and my EMR can’t follow me.
I tend to deflect with humor when I’m nervous or anxious. This woman was having none of it and told me to “be serious.” Cool. You just took away the only coping mechanism I have in this instance. As the call went on, I could feel my blood pressure up in the stroke out region.
Finally, she says to me something along the lines of, “since this is your first procedure, I am going to describe how things will go.” She starts talking about walking into the hospital, checking in, etc. At this point, I interrupt and ask if it’s really necessary. She tells me that it is because “know it will make you feel better.” I told her it was only making me more nervous. She told me I should listen and I would feel better.
Now a bit of context before I describe how the call ended. I live a few hundred feet away from a busy expressway. This call took place around 4:30 as traffic was picking up, and I’d opened the window because I was burning up.
This woman continues with what will happen in pre-op. Anxiety is starting to overpower me, and I finally interrupted her and said, “I don’t think this is necessary. You can probably hear the noise from the Dodge Expressway in the background. My will to live is currently out there playing in traffic.” She quickly wrapped up the call after that. I was half expecting to have the police out here for a wellness check. I guess I didn’t sound suicidal enough.
Fast forward to today. Well, about 30 minutes ago. Methodist has this educational system called Emmi. They sent me a 21-minute video to watch. I didn’t see the initial email, so I got the worst automated call in the history of automated calls. 4 different voices ranging from bad computer voices to poorly simulated human voices. The script ranged from condescending to sappy empathy. The main point was, get on the website and watch this video.
Harassing emails and a text message followed to get me to watch the video.
I finally watched it.
The video starts with a long passage of text that, when you boil off the legalese, basically says, don’t believe anything you’re told in this video, and don’t do anything this video suggests you do unless you’ve already been told to do that by your healthcare team. Cool. I tried to grab a screenshot, but they’ve been clever enough to block that, and I didn’t feel like reaching into my bag of tricks to circumvent their block.
The video was a mix between marketing and education. It did its best to pump up “your healthcare team” and how skilled they are while pointing out that surgery has risks. If something bad happens, it’s because of your medical history, a pre-existing condition you didn’t know about, or other life choices you’ve made (like using recreational drugs).
I imagine this video started out with the best of intentions. Still, by the time legal got done with it, the final product was pretty different from healthcare professionals’ intention.
Anyhow, my anxiety is once again through the roof.
Have you thought about talking to anyone about your anxiety, you might be asking.
God I wish. Unfortunately, that’s a no go.
Over the last two years, I’ve got to work closely with disaster case managers and crisis counselors as Nebraskans recovered from the 2019 flooding and navigated the stresses of the pandemic. One of the most important lessons I’ve taken away from my interactions with them is how to meet people where they are.
Words of Empowerment: How can I support you?
When I talk with family and friends about my anxiety surrounding all of this, I’m not looking for solutions. I’m not looking for sympathy. Talking it through is really all I need. It helps me process. It also helps me feel heard, which has a calming effect as well. Absent that, it’s just me pacing around my apartment talking to myself. I eventually arrive where I need to, but talking it through with someone gets me there quicker.
One of the tips I’ve learned from the disaster case managers and the crisis counselors is when a survivor shares their story with you, ask, “how can I support you?” Don’t offer solutions – you probably don’t have enough information about their situation to give meaningful solutions. Don’t force your help on them – the act of helping without being asked for it can be disempowering.
Following a work-related call, a crisis counselor I’ve been working with since the floods asked if I was okay – she thought I’d seemed a bit off lately. I brushed it aside as it being “personal,” and she created space for me to share, say “we’ve all got personal things, I’ve got time to listen if you want to share.”
That meant a lot to me.
I shared how medical problems were creating anxiety. The lack of insurance was causing me to stress about my finances. The car breaking down in the middle of it made it hard to keep my business humming along.
She said it seems that I’m handling a lot right now and asked what she could do to support me. I told her letting me talk it through was a huge support.
I’ve got another friend who is really good at this, too. She listens, empathizes, and sends good vibes my way. Conversations with her are calming and a good reset when my anxiety is running too hot.
What if we had a healthcare system where the first question was, “how are you doing?” And that question came from a place of caring, not just breaking-the-ice small talk.
What if, instead of piling information on patients – because “knowledge is power” – our healthcare system asked, “what can we do to support you?” That would truly be empowering for patients.
That’s not the system we have. As long as there’s a profit motive, it’s a system we’re unlikely to get.
Thank you for indulging my venting.