When the Provider Becomes the Patient: Dr. Greenberg's story
I will admit I should have been more attentive to my own health, but as a physician I let it slide. I’d been feeling sick for a few days, but I was too busy to allow it to interfere with my schedule. I decided tomorrow was the day I would address it, but every day had a new tomorrow.
Finally the pain was bad enough that I just couldn’t ignore my symptoms anymore. So I did what any doctor would do―I ordered my own blood work and walked over to the lab for a blood draw. My white blood cell count told me what my stubbornness had not―something wasn’t right. So I walked up to Dr. Pardon Kenney’s office. He’s our Chief of Surgery here at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital and I trust him. I told him I thought I had appendicitis. He told me to go straight to the Emergency Department. I knew he was right so I went straight to the ED (after only seeing a few more patients in my office).
When I knew I was ill, I thought long and hard about where I wanted to receive my care. I’ve been a physician in the Boston area for a long time and I have a lot of connections. I have the privilege of being able to get good medical care almost anywhere I want. For a bit, I thought I might go to Newton-Wellesley Hospital, which is close to my house. I’ve gotten care there before and it has been excellent. Alternatively, I thought about the “Big House”―Brigham and Women’s Hospital―where I’ve been a doctor for almost 30 years. I know people there and I know the care is superb. If I wanted anonymity, I could go to Massachusetts General Hospital or Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Or I could just walk downstairs to the ED here at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital. I actually thought about it a lot. I was trying to weigh my privacy concerns with the quality of care. Ultimately I decided being cared for by my professional family was more important to me than my privacy and I decided to stay with the providers who I trust as both colleagues and friends.
As an admitting physician I have never doubted the quality of care at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital for my patients, but I honestly didn’t know what it would be like to be a patient here. Yet there I was in the ED, on a stretcher in, a gown, being wheeled across the main corridor on my way to Radiology for a CT scan. I passed a few co-workers and gave them a wave.
From that first encounter in the ED and Radiology, I knew I had made the right decision. I expected the nurses and physicians I know to take excellent care of me, but the most rewarding part, as a member of our professional community, was experiencing the care I got from the people who don’t know me. The Transporter who wheeled me from the ED to Radiology had no idea I was an employee here, but his friendly and talkative manner was reassuring and made me feel like a person being cared for rather than just another body on a stretcher. That’s the experience that our patients are getting each and every day. When you’re not feeling well and you’re in an awkward situation, you have someone from Transport who makes you feel better. That’s the Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital experience. Those are the difference makers.
My CT Technologists knew me and took care to respect my privacy. But I wasn’t feeling well and they were friendly and nice and went out of their way to get me an extra blanket, adjust my pillow and make me more comfortable. I know that’s not special care; that’s the standard care they are giving to all their patients.
It turns out, for the first time in my life, I was wrong. I didn’t have appendicitis. I had perforated diverticulitis and had to be admitted. That’s where I pulled a few strings. I was able to move through the system quickly and secured a bed on our newest unit, 7 South. While it was great to be in a brand new private room with a view of the Arnold Arboretum, it was even better to be on a floor where I know the leadership team and many of the nurses. The nurses and physicians that I know all treated me well, maybe they even gave me a little special treatment. But again, it was the staff that didn’t know me that impressed me most. The PCAs, the housekeepers and the staff who delivered my meals―all of them asked how I was feeling and made an effort to help me feel better.
With the nurses and others who do know me, I was so impressed by their professionalism and attention to my care. Twenty-four/seven, they follow the protocols. I never got any medication without someone asking me my name and my date of birth and scanning my bracelet, even when they knew exactly who I was. We joked about it at the time, but the double identifier is important for patient safety and I was glad to be asked.
There were other little things that made the experience positive for me. For instance, at night when the staff had to wake me up to take my vital signs, they were so sensitive to the fact that I was tired and not feeling well. They were in and out quick without ever turning on the lights. Those little things made a big difference.
I was in the hospital for three days before I felt ready to go home. The experience taught me a lot. One: I need to pay better attention to my own health. Two: being a patient is hard. I certainly have more sympathy for my own patients after my experience.
I also learned a thing or two that I would like to incorporate into my own practice. On 7 South, the nurses do bedside report. That means they give report to the next nurse coming on shift at the bedside in front of the patient. It’s something that is a little controversial as it can be awkward to talk about someone when they are right there. But I found it to be helpful. Maybe not in the middle of the night, but during morning, afternoon and evening change of shift, it was very helpful to me as the patient. I felt comfortable hearing what was going on with my care. In fact, there were instances when I was able to correct some things and avoid miscommunication between the nurses. It helped my care feel better coordinated and it made me feel more comfortable about the care I was receiving. I also think it’s helpful for the staff. Maybe it’s something I can I do for my patients in the future.
If I’m being honest, being in the hospital was a drag―I didn’t feel well and I was bored. I’m not the type of person who can easily relax and being told to do so was excruciating. I don’t wish anyone to be ill and be in the hospital, but it was so helpful to see and experience everything from the other side. It was gratifying to see the hospital that I work in, that I refer my patients to, function at an even higher level than I thought it did. I tell people, “The care wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be. It was better.” We talk a lot about the “Friendly Faulkner.” It does make a difference. As a patient, there is a feeling that everyone here cares about you. I felt that from the staff in Food and Nutrition, from Transport, from the people who took my blood in the Outpatient Lab. There was no one who I felt wasn’t respectful of the fact that I wasn’t feeling well. And there were a lot of people who didn’t know me and they still treated me that way. I’m not surprised, but it was nice to have that validated. To see how really nice our employees are across the board gave me a new found appreciation for the people I work with, for my colleagues, for the leadership of this hospital and for everyone who plays a part in making the “Friendly Faulkner” the hospital of choice in our community.
Dr. James Greenberg is Chief of Gynecology at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital.