Communication is always important and has a big impact on how we view a company, whether it is through their promotion or direct communication with someone from the company/organisation. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems like training in communications seems to be lacking. Companies sometimes seem to forget that people on the phone or at a desk are often the first impressions one gets of a company.
This is a topic that could be discussed back and forth and different examples could be given. However, to explain what I mean I am going to focus on communication in the health care system, as I feel like that is a place where people should, more than anywhere, be trained in basic human communication. They should be trained to treat everyone equal and show sympathy when needed.
When it comes to doctors I have discovered they vary when it comes to the communication part. Understandably, as they are human just like you and me. However, they often have to tackle difficult problems and meet people at stages in their lives that they probably wished they never had to come across.
I have had some great doctors that really went beyond what is expected of them. Two of which gave me their private numbers as I lived in small villages where one should only need the help of doctors between 8 and 4. As they knew I had things going on that might bother me outside of office hours they actually offered me their mobile numbers and told me to contact them directly if that was the case.
When I had just become a single mum of my two older kids I also experienced the most amazing good deed. I don’t think it was because he is a doctor, I think it is just because he is a nice person that cares for others. I had just gotten settled in mine and the kids first flat as a family of three. I didn’t have a job as I was still on a very low budget maternity leave (at this point my daughter was 3 years old and my son was only 7 months) and I was quite lost in life. I had seen my doctor to talk, to get an outlet for my emotions and feelings. He listened and was trying to figure out ways with me to get me back to school so I could make a decent life for myself and the kids. One night I was in my cosy little flat and my kids were asleep and the phone rang. This wasn’t unusual as most of my social interactions were by phone as one can get quite isolated when they are parents of young kids and lack the net of people around them to babysit every once in a while, etc. What was unusual, however, was that I didn’t recognise the number. I answered the phone and on the other end a voice said:
“Yes?” I replied.
“Hi, this is your doctor X (I am not going to put his name in here, to respect his privacy).”
“This phone call is a little unusual and you are probably wondering why I am calling…”
“Yeah…” I answered quite confused.
“Well the thing is me and my wife bought a lot of meat to process straight from the farm. We have been spending this afternoon cutting it down and packaging it. Some for us and some for our kids.”
“Well there’s way too much! My wife suggested that it would be nice if we knew anyone in need that some of this would be helpful to, I instantly thought of you. Don’t worry though!! I didn’t disclose your name.”
“Yes, so I was wondering if you might want some minced beef an if so, how you’d like the proportions to be?”
When you are a single mum with no extra cash to spend you can not afford to say no to such a nice gesture so I ran and had a look in my freezer to look at the proportions sizes I got at the supermarket and said to him: “I would love that, thank you so much! Maybe around 500 gr. in a bag?”
“It might be 400-500 gr. I hope that’s okay?”
I couldn’t help but laughing and told him I could live with that.
Later that night he showed up wit 5 kilos of minced beef! I took it from his hands with a lump in my throat! He sorted out 10 evening dinners for me and my children and probably a little more as we would make loads out of the 500 gr. proportions and then be able to have left overs the night after. I thought it was so amazing that someone had had me in mind like that and whenever I have been in the position to help others I have tried to do so as I know how much it can mean for the person on the receiving side of it, even though it may seem small to me. Pay it forward kind of a thing.
I’ve also had really funny encounters with doctors. One has to understand that Iceland is a VERY small country with the population of around 350000 and the chances of a person you meet in the street knowing someone you know are huge!
Once I had to go for a check-up at the gynaecologist. He turned out to be the doctor that delivered me when my mum gave birth to me. While he had his head between my legs taking a swab he said, just like it was the most normal thing in this position: “You look just like your mum!” I wasn’t sure what exactly he was talking about!
Another time I went to another gynaecologist. I was prepared to have a swab taken. Stretched out on the bench, legs in the appropriate handles and all. He then opens a cupboard above his head. He closes it again and opens the one next to it. The same happens and he went through a few cupboards and as he opened more of them I noticed he was getting a bit stressed. He then smiled awkwardly and said: “I am SO, SO sorry! This has NEVER happened before but I seem to have run out of the sticks I use to take the swabs with… BUT I do have a box of them in my car. If you would only be so kind to wait, I’ll just run out and get them!”
“Right…okay..” It wasn’t like I was going to leave with out having what I came for. However, we were on the 5th floor and this would take him a little while. Being in Iceland, in a rush he put a scarf and coat on and popped out the door, 2 seconds later his head popped back in and he said with an awkward smile: “You just try to be comfortable while I run out!” Any woman that has lied on one of these benches knows there is nothing comfortable about them!
Unfortunately, I have also had some bad experience with doctors. When I miscarried for the first time I was 22 years old. I was at home and all of a sudden I started bleeding. I got really worried and didn’t know what to do, still I hoped maybe it wasn’t all that bad and I was reading to much into it. I called the doctor on call in my village and grumpily he said: “It’s simple! You’re are miscarrying, it’s gone, all done! There is nothing we can do!”
With that he hung up. I felt horrible. These news were devastating and I felt so disregarded as I would have thought he wanted to see me and check up on me. It was dinner time and I got the feeling I interrupted him while having his evening meal. Half an hour later he called back and was a little more sympathetic and actually asked me questions and explained the procedures if this was the case. Once I got over the biggest shock, I imagined his wife had heard him and told him off for talking to a woman in this position the way he did. That probably wasn’t the case though, he must have realised afterwards that he’d been a bit hasty. And I do take my hat off to him for actually calling back and kind of making amends.
Another time I miscarried and was sent with an airplane to a hospital to be monitored. The morning after a gynaecologist examined me. He brought a student with him and didn’t ask if it was okay with me that he was present and I didn’t say anything, I probably would have said yes, but one should ask. He then examined me and spoke “doctor” to his student, pointed at the screen and never said a word to me. The two of them then disappeared behind a curtain where they had a computer and they kept “talking doctor”. After a few minutes I had worked up the courage to ask: “Can I put my clothes back on?” The answer was a short, annoyed yes and then they kept talking amongst themselves. For a while I stood there like I didn’t belong and felt like I shouldn’t be there. However, I ended up asking “I am sorry… Is it gone? Have I miscarried?” This specialist sneered back: “Yes! That is if you were ever pregnant!”. With that I left.
Having doctors that talk to people in situations like this, communicating like that is horrible. Afterwards I felt like I didn’t only have to deal with the shock and sorrow of miscarrying but also this treatment. To be treated like a second-class citizen.
In England I have come across what I would class as very unprofessional behaviour. Not from the doctors themselves but the first person one has to go through before getting to the doctor. The receptionists. Desk doctors as I have started referring to them as.
In December, when I discovered I was pregnant I looked on NHS’s website to see what the procedures are here, as I have never been pregnant in the UK before. It said if you have discovered you are pregnant you should contact your local clinic and get an appointment with a midwife or a GP. Which I decided to do, especially with my history, I knew I wanted it on record in case of worst-case scenario. Therefore, I called my local clinic and asked for an appointment. They have appointment slots every day which they only fill in on that day. So, you are supposed to call in the morning and get allocated an appointment later that same morning. I told the lady on the phone I needed one of these walk-in appointments (this is something they have just started and came instead of the walk-in hours, to avoid people coming in and having to wait for hours). She told me they didn’t have walk-ins. I tried to explain I needed one of these same-day appointments and she told me they only had appointments next week. After going back and forth explaining to her what I was talking about she said: “Oh you are talking about (insert the official name of the appointments)”. I told her that was correct. She then asked me what the problem was, which I am not used to as in Iceland it’s the doctors business not a receptionists. I told her I had just discovered that I was pregnant and as the NHS website stated I wanted to see a GP. She told me that had nothing to do with the GP and that I needed to see a midwife but only if I was around 10 weeks pregnant. I then explained to her that first off I wasn’t sure how far on I was and then I told her I had had 7 miscarriages and needed the support and assurance of a doctor. “I don’t know what he’s supposed to do for you! But I’ll book you in any way!”. I felt like she had been rude and couldn’t believe her last snappy answer as I had just shared with her my history and explained that I was very nervous. There was no sympathy, just cynical remarks.
I told the doctor about the answers and comments I had received. She apologised and couldn’t believed how I had been spoken to. She said the reasons for my visit were none of the receptions business and if I wanted to see a doctor, I should get to see a doctor no matter what it was for. She then told me she would send a request for me to see a gynaecologist at the hospital so I could be monitored. I should also book an appointment at the reception for a meeting with my community midwife. When I got to the reception the “lovely” receptionist from the phone was there. I told her I needed to book an appointment with a midwife. Very loudly (so loudly that everyone in the waiting room knew exactly why I was there) she asked me how far along I was. I told her I wasn’t sure but was about to see a specialist to get that clarified as I didn’t know. Loudly, again, she said: “You don’t know!?!” I felt really embarrassed and like I had failed in filling out my sexual encounter diary to make sure to have exact dates and records. Again, I told her I was sorry but I didn’t. She told me the only appointment she had was at the beginning of February and I accepted that. Again, she stressed that the midwifes REALLY wanted to be sure of how far along women were when they saw them. I just looked at her awkwardly and said: “Well, I don’t know.” She booked the appointment and murmured: “Well you should be around the correct time by then anyway…” I wondered how on earth she knew more than me!
After this I waited for a letter which would tell me when I was to come into the hospital to see a gynaecologist. A week later my letter arrived but my appointment wasn’t till January so I called the hospital. When I got through to a receptionist, they told me I was just seeing a midwife for a normal check-up. I explained that wasn’t correct. That I was going to see a community midwife but needed to see a specialist at the hospital due to my history. She didn’t budge. After a while she transferred the phone to another person and I got the same thing. I ended up crying out of frustration and simply told her I was scared and I felt like no one was listening. Finally, I got transferred to a receptionist at the pre-natal care. This person had been filled in on why I was calling and once she got on the phone she asked what she could do for me. I started crying loudly and told her all I needed was to see a specialist and that was what I believed my doctor had requested but for some reason I was being told I would only get to see a midwife and that wouldn’t happen until January. As I was very emotional (and a “little”) dramatic by this point I told her I was doubting it all though and I felt like I didn’t understand anything and maybe it was because I was nothing more than a foreigner. She calmed me down and had me breathing in and out before assisting me.
She booked me in, told me I’d see a midwife who probably would have a specialist do a scan on me the same day.
Once we arrived, I spoke to yet another receptionist. She told me to pee in a cup. I told her I believed I wasn’t supposed to as I might be going for a scan as I wasn’t sure about my dates and I knew a scan so early on require a full bladder. She hissed at me and told me I wasn’t booked in for a scan and therefore there wouldn’t be any scan that day and I should basically do as I was told. Quickly I sensed the fact she was not going to budge so, upset, I took the glass and went to the bathroom. When I returned my fiancée told me he had tried to talk to her but there was no way to get her to listen. For the first time in my life my blood pressure was measured quite high and I know it was only due to upset. Once I finally saw the midwife I felt better. She was caring and understanding. She understood my worries and as the specialist she normally would have me see was gone for the day, she wanted to book me in with him later but offered to have another doctor have a quick look then and there just to set my mind at ease.
This doctor was very cold. To begin with he saw the bubble the fetus should be in but couldn’t detect a fetus. The midwife held my hand and comforted me as tears ran down my face in silence. She asked him to do a more thoroughly examination. I had to remove my clothes and he did. He could detect a fetus this time but couldn’t confirm there was a heartbeat and told me that his file would therefore say there was a fetus but that there was uncertainty about vital signs. More tears ran down my face and he left. I apologised to the midwife for the crying and she asked me please not to apologise. Told me communications weren’t his strongest point which was why she was there, to translate his words into human interactions. Both she and my fiancée said they believed they saw a flickering and we would know for sure in a few days.
As my readers know when I went back there was a heartbeat and we are now in our 10th week.
After this I have been treated very well but I am sure that there are notes on their system about communications with me. It has been frustrating and hard to deal with health care employees that treat you like any other number. That even make you feel like you are wasting their time. I know we all have bad days, but if you cannot mask them and your job is to deal with real people with real emotions maybe you should be doing something else.
These receptionists were my first impressions of the English health care system when it comes to pregnancy and I must admit I wasn’t impressed. I might have listened and not pushed for what I needed. If I would have I would have missed the amazing service I have had after getting passed these gatekeepers. I would have had weeks of wondering whether everything was going okay or not and I would still be waiting for the confirmation on it.