Consulting the consultants: A lesson learned, I hope

The year was 1985 and I remember this incident so well. My burns injuries had left certain residual problems: occasional soreness in my left hand – the fingers specifically – and the odd sensation I have always had from my lower lip and chin.

There was another problem which had become more irritating. The skin on my throat had a slight weblike look, and wearing shirts became really annoying, occasionally cutting the flesh and blooding the collar. Wearing a tie was even worse. If I moved my head the effect of a tighter tie and collar rubbing against the skin led to the same result, but also nasty raw wounds. I was also having difficulty sleeping. To make a rather long story short, having talked it over with Trish we thought it best for me to see a plastic surgeon and get his opinion.

I was very, very nervous because having endured so many operations I dreaded the thought of another. It seemed there was no other option.

We arrived at the private clinic and after a while were ushered into the presence of Mr Consultant. Trish came in with me and sat a few feet away, while I sat on the other side of his desk. Unfortunately, Mr Consultant was busy on the phone, the gist of the conversation being he was buying a boat with someone else (a fellow consultant?) and they were discussing how much they should pay.

After what seemed like an age he finally finished talking and turned to me. He sprinted around to my side of the table, and while feeling my chin, began discussing with Trish the possibilities – how he could improve my chin’s appearance – and started asking her questions about my scars.

Trish has always been my rock, my greatest fighter, my best supporter, and she ripped into him saying she wasn’t the patient and he should talk directly to me. Besides, she growled, my chin wasn’t the reason I was seeking his help.

Suitably chastened, Mr Consultant went back to his chair and began the consultant/patient consultation properly.

This episode was not unusual. It had been a feature of previous consultations with another consultant. Somehow they ignored the patient while addressing the adult or guardian. It was understandable when I was a child, but as I grew older the attitude never changed. After all, Mr Consultant, I was 32 then and I deserved respect. You never respected my dignity as a patient.

Instead, I went ahead with the operation he suggested. He explained the procedure and the outcome. A date for surgery was agreed and I went away annoyed about his treatment of me and scared about the impending operation.

That decision has haunted me ever since and I’ll explain why in a future blog.

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2 thoughts on “Consulting the consultants: A lesson learned, I hope

  1. The BBC once ran a series on radio with the terrific title : Does he take sugar? It was aimed at people with disability of one sort or another but it had great lessons for all of us. Some professionals can be particularly insensitive, yet my most positive experience was accompanying my elderly mother, in an advance stage of dementia,to her consultant. He would hold her hand,and speak directly to her, knowing that she understood little of anything. He had explained to me that his was his m.o. as preserving the dignity of his patient was most important. A wonderful man – would that there were more like him!

    1. That is certainly a very positive experience. I would hope that today all doctors and consultants are as sensitive and respectful of a patient’s dignity. I will return to the subject at a later stage and this time the experience was totally positive. The one I wrote about was not alone an insult to me and disrespectful but also infuriated my wife.

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