Finding Trust in Doctors–A Scrape & A Hit
Kate had shooting pains in her ear last week. Frequently, like every few minutes. It felt deep within her ear, but it could have been a tooth thing; one evening, her jaw was swelling on the same side as the pain. She tried to remember what an ear infection felt like as she called her audiologist for an appointment; then, she realized that even if he had the tool to look in her ear, he didn’t have the power of prescription.
Good ol’ Tylenol was covering most of the pain, but eventually, she’d have to sit on an paper-covered examination bed, surrounded by counters covered with tools, a sink and a white coat.
So Just’In took a sick half-day off, not because he was ill, but because his wife was. Kate found herself sitting in a waiting room, cringing in pain and gripping her ear with two happy boys—one glad to be off work and one glad to be with the other and in a new place.
Urgent Care has lots of doctors in white coats, and at this point, Kate just wanted the pain to stop. She also wanted it to be identified so her worry-alarm would stop going off.
After fungus along her ear canal walls was identified, the doctor’s nurse tried flushing it out. The nurse tried three times, and as good as the large cups of warm water felt, the pain was still there and the nurse walked out with a frown.
The doctor then told Kate, “Okay, I’m going to try scraping it out,” as she held up a tool with a football-shaped end. Kate hesitantly assented.
“Just don’t puncture my eardrum, okay?” Kate said, only half-jokingly.
“I’ll try not to,” said the doctor.
Kate then pulled away at a new kind of sudden pain. Maybe she glared at the doctor. “That hurt,” said Kate.
“Apparantly,” said the doctor. “Would you like me to continue?”
This appointment wasn’t just a relief of pain anymore. Kate had sudden images of mold being flung into irretrievable places, permanent gashes in eardrums, and more hearing loss because someone was trying to fix something else. Did this doctor know how to move her hand or which tool to use? Kate could imagine disaster from someone who seemed like she was guessing.
“Uh, no. Thank you, but I’ll ask my audiologist to do it.” Once Kate heard the phrases “ear drops” and “should take away the pain”, Kate was out within seconds and on the phone with another receptionist. The audiologist knew this was out of his reach and referred her to the Ear, Nose & Throat clinic, and Kate was off to another appointment two days later.
This doctor asked for the story, from the beginning. He nodded with approval at the diagnosis and the ear drops Kate was administering and looked much more briefly into Kate’s ear than the first doctor. He told her what Kate suspected: the fungus needs to come out. But the tool he procured looked much more appropriate for the job, even if it was a little scarier—a long, slender, curved, metal tube.
He was quick about it, and told her it would tickle even when she felt the same pain from the previous doctor’s office. The word “tickle” has positive connotations when used in doctor’s offices, even if it doesn’t tickle. Plus, suction felt like a better idea than just scraping, even if it was noisier, and he was finished in seconds.
He also told her some things that the first doctor did not; things that also made her feel at ease: this is really common, there’s no way to prevent it, and come back to him if it happens again. Also, hearing aids and ear drops don’t mix, and avoid getting water in that ear for a week by folding your earflap down in the shower.
He laughed in amusement at Kate’s curiosity when she expressed interest in the medical charts on the walls and turned it into meaningful conversation. He stood at the computer to send a prescription personally to the pharmacy, and shook her hand before he left.
The ease Kate felt did not come from gender differences of the two doctors; Kate has had female and male gynecologists and has felt equally comfortable with both. Gynecology is surely a much more sensitive area than ear stuff, even for someone with a normal reproductive system and faulty ears.
The ease came from bedside manner and experience. Of course, Kate cringes at the thought of a general physician bill and a specialist bill, but finding a good fit is comforting, and knowing that her ear is healthy, and not damaged further, is even better.