Last Saturday did not go as planned. I was chatting on the phone with a friend while I was out walking and feeling great. I decided to push myself a little and hike up a back trail near my house called "Uli's Stairs.' The stairs were built into the escarpment by an elderly gentleman in the community. They are labelled 'Use at Own Risk," and I've never had any issue.
If this were a movie, the foreshadowing scene happened the day before when I cut across a field on my walk and stepped into a pile of leaves. My foot was sucked into thick wet dirt. I had to yank it out, and it was covered in mud from the ankle down. You never know what lies beneath a pile of leaves.
On Saturday, I was halfway up the stairs when I stepped on something that gave way. It happened quickly and I started sliding. The wet leaves on the ground provided no traction. I fell down a hill yelling into the ear of my friend and landed against a chain-link property fence.
I lay there assessing the damage. I was afraid to look at my leg because of the pain. Meanwhile, my friend kept asking, "Are you ok? Where are you?" She is in PEI and panicking because she couldn't help. I managed to pull myself up. I could see a massive goose egg on my shin pushing through my legging. I called my husband, and he retrieved me and took me home.
After I assessed the damage, I decided I needed to go to the urgent care. My ankle was swelling and I had pain shooting up my leg. And that is where the story begins!
I was checked in at the clinic quite quickly, and I was optimistic about how fast things were moving. I was sent to a room with five other patients to wait for a doctor. I was making the most of the time reading while I waited.
After an hour, I started to get restless. I had yet to see a doctor anywhere. Had they forgotten about us?
Directly across from me was a young woman clearly in pain and not afraid to voice her frustration about the lack of communication. She went to the nurses' station and politely asked if they could give her any idea how long it would be before she saw the doctor. She was curtly told there was only one doctor on call, and they had no idea. (This never happens on Grey's Anatomy.) I was impressed with her taking leadership and asking for what she needed.
Beside her (socially distanced, of course) was a man I would guess was probably in his 40's. When I first noticed him, a little blood was seeping through the gauze wrapped around his finger. A chapter later, I looked up and noticed that the entire wrapping was soaking in blood. I suggested to him that he might want to elevate his hand to see if that helped.
I do not do well in hospitals. I was starting to wonder if I really needed to be there. And bloody finger guy wasn't helping me feel better. About twenty minutes later, he was dripping on the floor and his pants. He got up and got some paper towels, and wrapped them around his hand. Within five minutes, they were soaked in blood and dripping again.
By then, I had to say something. I pointed out the sign that said, 'if your condition worsens, please let the nurse know." I assured him that bleeding on the floor and his clothes warranted advising the nurses. At the very least, they could re-wrap his wound. He responded with, "They are swamped. I don't want to bother them." And there you have it. He would rather bleed out than be an inconvenience.
I have had similar feelings myself with doctors and specialists. I don't want to take up too much of their time. I don't want to bother them. I don't want to put anyone out. I don't want to rock the boat. I don't want to be a pain. I don't want to ask for what I need. I know health care workers are overburdened and understaffed. We hear it every day on the news.
When the doctor finally saw me, he barely looked at me in his hurry to get to the other patients. I firmly told him I had some questions. I asked for what I needed, and even then, I could sense his impatience. I did leave with my answers. The x-ray revealed that nothing was broken. I'm recovering from a sprained ankle. The swelling makes it difficult to know if I have torn ligaments. I'll follow up with my doctor based on how I recover. It could have been a lot worse.
The more important lesson here is that we need to get comfortable being an advocate for ourselves. The truth is if you require treatment for an injury, you are not an inconvenience. There is nothing wrong with asking for assistance. You can't control how other people respond to your request, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't ask for help.
Don't assume that health care workers view you as pain. You are a person who needs help. You are not a burden. If you see people as willing and able to help you, you act differently than if you see yourself as an imposition.
I'd love to hear from any health care workers who read this email. Or send it to a health care worker. I think you can always ask kindly, gently, and firmly for what you need, especially regarding your health and well-being. Don't let your fear or anxiety about how someone will respond keep you from taking care of yourself.