Friday, February 21, 2014

The Woman in the Black Reeboks

The old woman was hysterical. She had come to the doctor for a simple stomach ache and the diagnosis ended with atrial fibrillation. She dabbed her face with a tissue as the nurse tried to calm her down. She was in her eighties, but this was her first major medical problem. "My son, I have to call my son. Where's my cell phone?" she cried over and over.

My classmates and I stood in the corner helplessly, not able to say anything to comfort her. Barely even able to ask her how she was doing. For the moment, I wanted nothing more than to be able to speak Polish.

The nurse let her lay on the ECG bed and the doctor instructed anti-anxiety medications to be administered. Almost twenty minutes later the woman was still shaking. Crocodile tears covered her wrinkly face and the doctor ordered the ailing woman back to the waiting room to wait 30 minutes before she would have another ECG. "We need the room, we have other patients," she said.

The nurse not at all pleased by the doctors decision half carried the anxious woman back to the small waiting room which was nothing more than a converted hallway where seven other patients sat.
Some time later the nurse and I half carried the woman back to the ECG bed. She had calmed down, but only a little- tears still filled her blue eyes. I helped lift her feet up onto the bed and noticed her black Reebok sneakers. The same type of sneakers my own grandmother wears on a daily basis.

The ECG was performed again and confirmed the diagnosis. The woman's son arrived half way through the test, and the look of relief on her face was enormous. Like any good son he was very concerned about his mother, checking to see if she needed anything, asking what was wrong. The woman was never told the diagnosis, the son was taken to the hallway to explain the situation and she was referred to a cardiologist.

Before the woman left to go the doctor performed an abdominal exam- Hermanski's sign was positive, she had guarding in her abdomen. The main doctor came in and conferred with the one who had done the exam. They spoke in Polish, so I still don't know what they decided the cause of the pain was.

While the woman was buttoning up her shirt the main doctor turned and said to us. "So there are some problems, but I think she is faking it. She is doing this for attention."

And that is the attitude towards most patients in almost all of the departments I have visited. But, it's fair to say it was the worst in family medicine.

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