On Being a Patient

I opened my eyes as I slowly regained consciousness. I looked around and I was alone in some kind of cubicle where the curtains were drawn close. I was lying in a stretcher with nothing on but a flimsy hospital gown. I felt cold and naked. Wrapped around my left arm was a blood pressure cuff, and attached to my chest were leads of a heart monitor. In the back of my right hand was a small catheter inserted through my skin, while intravenous fluids infusing slowly through my veins.

My mind was still foggy like I was dreaming. I felt like floating and detached, and yet I was so calm. Is this out-of-body experience? It must be the sedatives I received.

Moments later the nurse entered through the curtains and smilingly told me that everything went smoothly. Not too long after, the doctor came in and said everything turned out to be alright.

Before you think that there was something bad or serious that happened to me, it was not that. I just had my screening colonoscopy done. Nothing more.

Colonoscopy is a recommended procedure for all people above 50 years of age, to screen for colon and rectal cancer. It is through this test that small polyps in the colon, which can be pre-cancerous or early cancerous lesions, can be detected and removed. And though I am still a few years from fifty, yet with my strong family history, as my mother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, my good friend who is a gastroenterologist, recommended that I have the procedure done early according to the American Cancer Society’s Guideline. That was more than two years ago that I was told that, but I dragged my feet to have it done. Doctors can be the worst patient you know.

When I had my annual physical exam few months ago, my personal physician also recommended that I undergo colonoscopy. Now I cannot escape the doctor’s orders. So I finally gave in. Doctors like to give orders, but not necessarily like to follow their own advice or follow the orders they were given.

So there I was lying in the recovery room, still dazed from the sedatives I received during the procedure. As the doctor approached the stretcher where I was, it dawned on me that there was a big reversal of role. I was not the doctor in control. This time I was the patient.

The doctor came in, who was nicely dressed with his white coat on, while I was butt-naked with nothing on but a hospital gown. He towered over my bed confidently like the man in-charge, while I laid there feeling groggy and helpless. Not knowing what just happened as I was just coming out of sedation, I felt so vulnerable and invaded. If having a scope shoved down in you-know-where would not give you a feeling of invasion, I don’t know what will. And lastly, when my doctor came in to give me the news whether it be good or bad, he knew something that I don’t, and yet it concerns me, my health, my life.

So this is how a patient feels. Exposed and powerless. No option but to submit, for resistance is futile. Entrusting your life to the hands of somebody. Somebody you barely know, except for his name. Somebody that you can just hope, will take good care of you.

I am glad that I experienced being a patient, for it gave me a different kind of perspective. A point of view that I have never seen before. Though I don’t look forward of having my colonoscopy done again in about 5-10 years as what was recommended. But I admit the floating, detached, and calm feeling from the medication was some kind of “high.”

The next time I stand over patients’ bed while they lay there defenseless, with my white coat on while they are almost naked, and with facts that I know while they don’t know and yet it concerns their life – I will certainly hold it with such high esteem and with utmost reverence, that trust that was given to me.

Being patient is a virtue. In my case, being “a patient” made me virtuous.

Doctor’s Prayer