On Jan. 12 of this year, my mother Donna celebrated her 80th birthday. Frankly, she didn’t think she was going to make it. Not because she suffers from a chronic disease or because she has been ill recently. Her mother, Helen, passed away at 79 after falling and breaking her hip. Grandma Helen was hospitalized after her fall and, well, she never left that hospital bed, until she left that hospital bed. My mother just assumed she would suffer a similar fate.
So, when it came time to schedule her six-month check-up in January with her primary care physician, she put it off. After all, what was the point?
When asked about when her next visit with her doctor was, her story always changed: “Oh, they called and rescheduled it for next month.” “Your aunt and uncle are visiting from Colorado that day, so I moved it.” “Oh, your Dad and I forgot about it, so we had to reschedule again.”
Three months passed, and still no appointment. Only now, she wasn’t feeling so hot. She and my dad had both had their flu shots, but over a period of about four weeks, she battled a chronic cough, stomach viruses and sleepless nights. She spent days on end in her pajamas wrapped up in the blanket I got her for her birthday, adorned with the photographs of her 14 great-grandchildren in the shape of a crescent moon with the phrase “love you to the moon and back” scrawled next to it. (“Guess How Much I Love You,” from which that line came, was the story I asked her to read to me over and over again.)
My dad had taken her to urgent care a few times, various tests were taken and medications prescribed, but not much changed. When we asked her diagnosis, the answer was “Oh, it’s just a cough or a stomach bug. It’ll pass.” You see, my dad has never been comfortable in a doctor’s office or hospital rooms. It’s his preference to sit in the waiting room, reading his book, until my mom comes out of the exam room, proclaims that everything is fine and she doesn’t know what they were doing there in the first place. Of course, that is, until the pharmacy calls to tell him the medication she was prescribed (and never mentioned) is ready to be picked up.
Finally, my sister and I convinced her to see her primary care doctor. This time I would go with her – no more excuses. For the first time in my life, I found myself parenting my parent – answering the doctor’s questions for her when my mom either couldn’t find the words, or simply didn’t remember details from recent weeks. I was hesitant at first to insert myself into what seemed to me a very personal conversation between a doctor and her patient about her patient’s bowel movements. But my mom was content to tell the doctor everything was fine, and while she’d had some stomach trouble, “the trouble had cleared up.” When, in fact, it had not.
The whole interaction got me thinking about the concept of trust, and how important it is in a health care setting. My mom’s doctor has to trust that she’s getting all of the information she needs to treat her patient. My mom has to trust that the doctor is asking all the right questions, ordering all of the right tests and prescribing all of the right medications. They both have to trust me now as a necessary intermediary.
During a recent Patient and Family Advisory Council meeting at the HealthInsight Nevada offices, our advisors were asked, “What makes you pick one doctor over another?” Trust was at the top of the list. And in turn, the health care professionals we work alongside to help improve the quality of care for their patients have to trust us.
Defined by Merriam-Webster’s as the “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength of someone or something,” trust is no simple thing. Even the little nutbrown hare from my favorite childhood bedtime story needed proof of how much his mother loved him – “as high as I can hop,” “as high as I can reach,” “to the moon and back.”
I am trusting that together, my mom’s doctor, my mom, my siblings and I (and yes, even my dad from the waiting room) will make the best decisions we can with regard to her health so that we celebrate her 81st birthday next year.