The Unexpected Phone Call

Recently, I went in for a series of routine and preventative screenings and tests. I had to have the tests performed adaptively, where  I was seated in a chair versus standing to have the tests performed.  As I entered the room, I informed Kate, the medical technician, that I would need to have the tests performed while I was seated.

I was nervous.  I was looking for a hesitant or perplexed expression from the medical professional that can sometimes mean “I don’t know what to do here”.  I did not see that look.

Kate had introduced herself.  She clearly explained the purpose of the screenings and tests, what would happen, and what I needed to do.  Kate was efficient and assisted me to get the tests done; assisting me to find ways  to maintain proper alignment and body position in the machines.

The tests concluded and I was almost giddy with relief.  I thought,  “Good, this is over.”  I was not expecting the phone call that indicated an anomaly had been found.

“Good Afternoon Ms. Wiley”.  The woman said.  “I am calling about your screening.  We need you to come back in for additional testing.”

One of the first questions I asked, was “Could the results be wrong because I was seated when the test was performed?” The medical professional assured me that the test results were accurate and repeated that I needed to be seen for follow-up testing.

I went to the hospital for the follow-up tests.   It felt like I was part of an assembly-line.  The first step was a review of my information, patient records, and insurance.  Once the in-take was complete, I was shuffled into another room so that the initial screening test could be re-done.  After that test was complete, I was shuffled into two additional rooms so that more pictures and imaging could be taken using different machines.

I laid on the metal tables with sweaty palms, feeling cold, and exposed.

The three waiting rooms I was ushered into during this process were awkwardly silent.  Several people were seated in rows of chairs.  The only sound was the occasional rustle of an old magazine.  Most people were playing games or reading something on their cell phone.  Some people I knew were there for their first visit.  Others I knew were having additional tests or were waiting for the results like me.

When my name was called, I was shuffled into a final room where I would get my test results.  I heard people talking about what they were going to order for lunch.

I remember thinking, “My life is potentially about to change and people are deciding what kind of pizza to order…”  I jumped when the door opened a final time.   The medical professional came in with my test results.

The follow-up tests came back negative.

I heard the word “negative” and I felt myself exhale.  No one wants to get the unexpected phone call that something is wrong.  No one wants to have to go for follow up screenings and tests.

Coming out of the experience, I am thankful for Kate, the medical technician, who initially engaged with me and walked me through the  diagnostic testing purpose and processes.  During the follow-up at the hospital, I felt increasingly exposed and shuffled.

Sensitivity, empathy, and purposefully engaging a person, sharing information, and preparing them for what is next, becomes even more critical and important during follow-up diagnostic procedures.  People’s lives are frequently impacted and changed in some way.

I certainly hope that when that unexpected phone call comes again for me, I see and interact with more “Kate’s” and experience less of the assembly-line and shuffle.

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