Our eldest son had his senior pictures scheduled for this past Friday. It was the last day before school started that we could schedule them, and they have to be done at a specific place and before a specific time so that they’re put in the yearbook. On Thursday, I asked him to try on his suit with whatever shirt and tie he wanted to wear so we’d have everything together and ready to go the next afternoon. And of course the suit didn’t come anywhere near close to fitting him.
So we then had about an hour-and-a-half window to find him a suit. I brought Son #2 along with us since he fit neither into his nor his older brother’s suit and would need one within the next month. Thankfully, Son #3 fits perfectly into Son #1’s old suit.
The problem is, I know very little about mens’ suits and my husband was away on a business trip. I needed to go someplace where there would be someone to guide us. We went to a national chain suit store nearby. They had a decent selection, but their prices weren’t great. The salesman seemed to know the different brands and cuts well, and went right to the styles that would fit the boys. But he was pushy. About the colors. About the tailoring. About shoes. I resisted the shoe push. But overall I felt pressured into an overall expensive purchase (admittedly much of the pressure being my own fault for not having checked suit-fit weeks ago). I did not walk out of that store feeling comfortable and happy.
Eldest son’s suit was ready for pickup Friday morning. It actually looked quite good. We headed to the photography studio for his sitting.
The woman at the front desk took us to a waiting area where the photographer met us and ushered us into the back. The photographer did not seem like she wanted to be there. In front of us, she complained with a colleague about another customer before she had my son go through a number of poses with different backgrounds. She seemed like she just wanted to be finished. With one particular pose, I asked if we could do a “serious” (not smiling) shot, and she said, “No, we did another serious shot and I like the smiling one on this pose.” And then she sent my child to change out of his suit into his other outfit for some casual shots.
I was a bit more forceful (but politely so) with the next set, and rather than asking her to do a shot with a particular expression I stated firmly (and sweetly) that I would like one done. She didn’t argue. But I left the studio feeling that I hadn’t gotten what I wanted with the formal shots. And the formal pictures had been the whole reason for my prior day’s rush on the suits.
I bring up these events of this past week because my mother just finished proofreading my completed manuscript for “Your Hospital Guide.” One thing she mentioned to me is that it can be really difficult to insist on something (like keeping your Hospital Buddy with you at all times) in a medical environment.
I get it. I really do. It was hard enough to say “I’m sorry, we’re not purchasing shoes today” as the salesman put them on my sons’ feet and told them how they needed ones that looked like this. It was hard enough to say to the photographer, “I’d really like a standing-up shot with a serious look.” And these are situations that are relatively unthreatening. The salesman and photographer are the authorities in their environments, but I and my family are the customers and we can risk annoying these people or even walk out if we want to without worrying about physical danger.
In a medical situation, a patient may feel that arguing, advocating, or questioning anyone in the environment might cause their or their loved one’s care to suffer. “This woman has my/my family member’s life/health in her hands. I’m not going to say anything that might make her angry.” But when you’re a patient, your needs are extremely important. Much more so than your need for a blue rather than a gray suit or a specific pose in a photography sitting.
When you are going in for a medical test or procedure, the time you are left alone in dressing areas or waiting areas can be extremely stressful. It may be “policy” for family members to wait back in a different waiting room, but this type of policy is changing in many hospitals as people figure out how to run a medical enterprise with the patient’s point of view in mind. There are certainly some situations where people other than the patient and hospital personnel cannot be there (for example, in an operating room), but many times there is no medical contraindication to the presence of a Buddy.
And your Hospital Buddy is there specifically for you. Not to make the hospital run efficiently (although he may help with that when helping you document information or answers to your questions, thus facilitating understanding and ability to follow directions). Not to improve the rankings of the hospital (although she may do that by helping you stay calm and comfortable so that when you fill out a survey form after your visit you’re more inclined to rate your patient experience more highly). Not to improve the hospital’s bottom line (although he may do so by asking questions that help you stay safe after you leave the hospital and prevent you from needing to be re-admitted).
When you are feeling afraid of ruffling feathers in a medical environment, your Hospital Buddy (or Doctor’s Office Buddy or Medical Buddy) can step in politely for you. Neither one of you should ever be afraid of asking questions until you understand something or letting people know your needs, your goals, and your fears. Do it politely. Do it with respect. But do it. “I’d like my sister to sit with me until I go back for the biopsy. If you need to ask me anything in private, I’ll ask her to step out for a minute. Otherwise, I need her with me.” “I need a doctor to evaluate my father immediately. Something isn’t right.” “When should I take the first dose of each of these medications?” “What would happen if I didn’t undergo this procedure? What is the risk of the procedure itself?”
It can be hard to speak up. I left the suit store having spent more than I would have liked and having purchased a suit for Son #2 that was not really his top color choice. I don’t think my son wanted to offend the salesman (who was insisting that the gray suit was more versatile than the blue striped one). And I didn’t do a great job of stepping away from the salesman with my son to make sure he could decide without pressure. And as I said earlier, I don’t really know much about mens’ suits. But this whole escapade was at worst a few hundred dollar less-than-perfect effort. With the photography sitting, at worst I won’t have a choice of all of the specific poses I would have liked. We can get another suit. We can get more pictures done.
The stakes are much higher with a medical issue. And I’ve been there, too. My worst decisions have been when I’ve felt pressured by time and been afraid of offending someone. The pressure and the fear can cause us to walk out of a doctor’s office or a hospital with that icky feeling that we’ve just done the wrong thing. Sometimes the time pressure is real, but don’t let the fear of offending someone prevent you from questioning or from getting another opinion. Do it respectfully but firmly. “This is a very big decision for me. While I’m thankful for and respect your opinion, I need a little extra input from another doctor so that I can feel comfortable that I’m making the right choice for me.”
Then know that whatever you decide, you’ve made the best choice possible with the information at hand.