I prepared my remarks for the upcoming talk carefully. I was ready to talk about life as a patient and the importance of my relationship with my healthcare providers. I was ready to talk about grief and coming to the end of life. I was confident in my content.
My chaplain friend, Heidi, and I had been invited to a Residents' Lunch prior to the Grand Rounds. This is where we would meet face to face with the resident who had invited us to speak. We would also have an hour to chat with the internal medicine residents about whatever was on their minds.
When we sat at the head of the table, there were about 15 pairs of eyes on us. The Chief Resident, the man who invited us there, stood for introductions. He began with Heidi. Her introduction was long, detailed, and glowing. He went all the way back to her high school and undergraduate days, detailing her degrees and hobbies. He gave a lengthy description of her work within the hospital and what value she lends. It was an impressive and generous introduction, clearly showing he had done his "homework."
When it came time for my introduction, he gestured at me and said "And this is Tiffany Christensen." With that, he sat down. I was stunned and a bit stung. He had my CV information and he knew my patient background. This was not a case of not knowing, it was a case of not caring. I felt like a lump of meat.
Through the rest of the lunch, all questions were directed at Heidi. I did my best to put on a smile, shrug off what had just transpired, and participate in the conversation. Each time I chimed in, however, my comments were met with dead air or another remark directed at Heidi.
When it was time to present at Grand Rounds, it was difficult to keep my head up when I walked into the auditorium. My competitive spirit is all that kept me going. I had an even stronger drive to show professionals the value of the patient voice.
When Heidi and I finished our presentations, all of the comments and questions were directed at me. One older physician remarked that he usually fell asleep during grand rounds and this was the first one in a long time that kept him on the edge of his seat. I was later met with many wonderful comments in private. Grand Rounds had been a success. I had weathered the storm of one professional's bias and proven to myself that my voice, my experience, did have some relevance to practicing professionals.
Today, I make my living speaking to consumers and professionals about various aspects of healthcare. Every time I stand before a group of healthcare professionals, I am met with the same insecurities I felt that day at Grand Rounds. My lack of medical training, my lack of a degree of any kind, comes up on a fairly regular basis. I dread the pre-presentation chats because invariably someone will ask my background and I am met with the same look in the eye as that chief resident. It can be a painful time before I make my presentation because my value is under scrutiny.
I am just a little patient in a big medical world. Trying to be heard. Trying to speak up for what I see on a personal and systematic level. I am just a little patient looking up at the towering healthcare system and hoping to make a dent. Each and every time I stand in front of a room of doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers, I wonder if I will win them over or fall flat on my face. Usually I win them over. Sometimes, I fall.
There are lots of us. Patients with rich insights stemming from arduous experiences. We have so much to say and so much to teach. There are still professionals who resist us. There are many who look for ways to integrate our messages into their practice. There is a new movement called Participatory Medicine. Some of us, patients and professionals, are ready to partner and meet each other as equals.
While I have to battle my nerves and insecurities in my work, professionals may face other challenges. I recently gave a presentation beside a physician currently leading the way in Participatory Medicine. An audience member asked what he would say to one of his colleagues who resisted the idea of partnering with patients. His response impressed me.
He said, "Every day I go to work, I have to battle my own ego. I know things would happen faster if we did them my way. I could plan my schedule if I didn't have to take other opinions into account. But I have made a choice to practice a different way. I have to remind myself that this is not about me, my schedule, my way. This is about the patient. So every day, I choose to put aside my ego and listen."
We are getting there. This healthcare culture is changing. Patients and professionals are working through their respected challenges and finding a way to the middle. I am so grateful to be a part of this exciting time in the evolution and revolution of healthcare!