10 Things a Healthcare Provider Should Never Say to a Patient

Written by Cynthia Zuber

Now there may be far worse things patients with diabetes have been told than the following list. But I did not hand out a poll. I simply recollected some of the unfortunate things I have heard in appointments by various medical professionals over the years---things that made me cringe.

If you are a healthcare professional, listen up. These are not helpful for a patient to hear. You might want to reconsider what point you are trying to get across if saying things such as this and if what you want to say needs to be said at all.

As someone I respect very much on my healthcare team has mentioned in relation to these kinds of incidences--

Unfortunately many nurses, doctors etc are not being given training in school on how to provide what is essentially good customer service. This can be very unfortunate for us, the patient. Often what we are dealing with is hard enough without needing to field inappropriate or insensitive comments from someone providing care. It would serve all healthcare providers well to put themselves in their patient's shoes for a moment before speaking sometimes. And maybe to receive some customer service training too.

Here goes the list of the worst (most aggravating) things I remember being told by the very people supposed to be providing me care...

1. You have a L-O-T wrong with you. There is a L-A-W-T going on.

Okay, it goes something like this. Even if my case history is more significant than yours. More significant than your brother or mom or most other patients you see, you do not, I repeat, you DO NOT need to quantify my health for me by saying not once but twice, "You have a L-O-T wrong with you" with an emphasis on the L-O-T. This plain out does not feel good.

It does not feel caring and what are you trying to accomplish by saying this? Do you think your patient might already not know they have Type 1 diabetes and a few of the related conditions that often accompany it? There is no benefit to saying this and actually it makes someone feel pretty rotten. And I probably won't return to your care if you say this (as I did not in this case for a handful of reasons). This is a biggie. Provide quality care over showing off your math skills in regards to my health. Thanks.

2. Boy, that is an awfully big bag you carry! You have a lot of bags..

I have been told this one by multiple practitioners. Listen up! I live with Type 1 diabetes, as you know! As someone who takes excellent care of her health and is fully prepared at all times, this requires me to carry a lot of things with me. Namely.. a blood sugar monitor with accompanying test strips, finger poker and spare lancets, my insulin pens, pen needles, alcohol swabs, medical tape in case my continuous glucose meter transmitter site gets loose etc. What am I forgetting here??

And to be prepared in case of a low I have one organic orange juice drink box and several fruit strips, sometimes a piece of fresh fruit too. I also carry a water bottle as I get especially thirsty when my blood sugar runs high. Plus the regular stuff most women have in their purse-- wallet, brush, lip balm, my planner, lipstick..

So please, do not comment on how big or heavy my bag is or on the fact that I have more than one which might be the healthy lunch I packed as I will be gone over the lunch hour (meaning I will not be going through a fast food drive-thru!). I am doing the best I can to take care of my health (insert -a darn good job!) and sometimes with a condition like diabetes, that comes in the form of a big, heavy or multiple bags. And is it any of your business anyways?

3. You have been through the wringer with your health.

I was actually told this one in my 20's by a nurse in the emergency room while there for a migraine headache. I think you were trying to display empathy, but maybe consider a kinder, more gentle way to say it. This way feels strange for me as the patient to hear and I question if I did something wrong to cause these health issues. (I will be writing about my food sensitivities soon - no more migraines for me since figuring out what I am intolerant too and can no longer eat!).

4. I see you as fragile.

I do have Type 1 diabetes but.. the last thing I am is fragile. It actually takes a heck of a lot of strength to willingly jab myself with needles day in and day out just to protect myself from death. After all, insulin is just life support.

Furthermore... the care I provide myself to stay well actually puts me in BETTER, yes better health than most of the folks out there. I eat an organic whole foods diet limiting my intake of cane sugar, exercise most every day, get at least 8-9 hours of sleep at night and I am really, really good at listening to my body. If I am tired, I rest. If I am stressed I rest. So really the last thing I am is fragile. I am just really in tune with my body and am super strong and brave to live with Type 1 diabetes for 26 years. Got it? Good!

5. Your blood sugar is 200? That is a little bit high, isn't it?

First off, you don't know what you are talking about!! Please do not place judgment on the number that appears on my blood sugar meter in front of you. You have no idea how hard I work to have good blood sugars and the amount of work 24/7/365 that goes into trying to have blood sugars like you have with your working pancreas. What we look at with Type 1 diabetes is the overall average of blood sugars for three months called the A1c. Individual results are not necessarily significant if they are moderately in range.

Many things that are out of my control can cause my blood sugar to go high like... stress, illness, an injury, interrupted sleep the night before due to blood sugar issues, etc. Also, 200 is a perfect blood sugar for me if I am going to exercise and not all that bad as a post-meal blood sugar either depending on what I ate prior. Leave out your thoughts on what number you perceive to be not good enough as a million things went into that number on the back end.

6). You quit wearing an insulin pump? Congratulations!

Actually... Not wearing an insulin pump or wearing one is not a mark of how healthy someone is or how much insulin they take or what kind of control they have of their diabetes, good or bad. I wore an insulin pump for 17 years and finally this Spring decided to unplug from that little machine. It was not because my diabetes is now in remission or I am needing less insulin unfortunately or am in better control.

It is because the current highest technology available to us is the insulin pump yet the way the insulin is delivered to us through that pump is far from advanced. And after many years the current delivery mechanism can cause problems with the tissue the sites are placed in. That is what happened to me. I take shots now but still got the ol' D...

7) You ask a lot of questions.

That is funny you say that. I do ask a lot of questions. I flew to Texas to have my aptitude tested several years ago before making a final decision about a graduate school program. One thing I found out was that I am off the charts analytical. What this means is I am constantly thinking about and analyzing information and life. I am also a learner - one of my top 5 strengths from another test I took.

Plus I am super passionate about my life. I want to be healthy and stick around for a while as I want to help others and make a difference in the lives of many. I also have a lot of things I love like my family, friends, my pets, live music, the sunshine, healthy baking and going for long walks. I'd like to enjoy these things a little longer.

In order to do this I need to be healthy and in charge of my health. Therefore I ask a lot of questions as I have a heck of a lot to stick around for. If I ask too many questions for you, I will find someone that likes my questions and instead of being intimidated by them, considers them to be a challenge and intellectually stimulating. As well as being excited about a patient that takes control of their health and does such a great job living well with diabetes vs. the noncompliant patient that does not care much about anything at all, including their own health and how long they have here on earth to enjoy it.

8) Do not give up gluten. It is too socially isolating and difficult.

You are happier to slap me with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. No thanks! I want to feel better and if giving up a food rather than taking a medication helps me to do that, praise God! It is at times socially uncomfortable but so is needing to stay at home because I feel so sick from the gluten I ate!

9) Nothing about you is the same as other patients of mine.

And this was said in not such a nice tone. This one came from a former endocrinologist. I was trying to remember other terrible things she said but this one is the only one I can remember. Yep, she actually said this. And I did confront her about it at my next appointment after not being able to let it go.

I am unique in my sensitivity, my inquisitive mind and my health conditions which have caused me to grow in my outlook in life and helped me to learn how to advocate for myself. But please don't put me down for it. I am already aware at this point that I often feel different than others and have given up on trying to fit in with everyone. I would rather be different in my uniqueness than the same as everyone else. I am living life as who I was created to be, not a second-rate version of someone else just to receive the acceptance of others.

10. You are awfully bundled up today.

Yes, I am. I live in Minnesota which is pretty darn cold many months of the year. Although I was born here, I do not like the cold! I also live with a condition called Hashimoto's Thyroiditis or hypothyroidism which causes me to be a bit more cold sometimes than others as the thyroid regulates temperature. Synthetic medications do not work as well as the hormones the body makes which leaves me feeling cold from time to time.

Another side effect of long term diabetes can be changes to our kidney meridian according to TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine. With my kidney meridian always needing some extra TLC, it leaves me feeling cold at times, especially if I am tired. By bundling up, I am being proactive and taking care of myself and my health as it keeps me feeling warm and comfortable. It is great you only needed to wear a fleece today to stay warm instead of a winter jacket or hat like me, but I would be freezing if I wore that! I'll stay bundled up and warm. :)



Over the years, I have learned to advocate for myself when hearing unkind things from my healthcare professionals. In many of the situations above, I did speak up and share my truth and experience. Maybe one of these days they will figure out not to say these kind of things. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

Now it's your turn! What are the worst things you have been told by a healthcare professional? 

How many of you speak up?

 

In Peace & Wellness,

Cynthia

 

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