Recently, my mother went to her doctor to renew a prescription, a process which she thought would take a few minutes.
She was told that the doctor could not renew the prescription without seeing her even though she has taken the same medication for cholesterol management for more than 20 years. Certainly, it makes sense to me that anyone on a medication should have to schedule regular opportunities for the doctor to track progress and ensure that the use of it continues to be in the best interests of the patient.
Since she lived 45 minutes from the doctor’s office, I knew we’d have to leave early, but she was packed up 90 minutes ahead of time, anxious to get on the road.
“Why the hurry?” I asked.
“There’s a sign in the office that says if you are more than 10 minutes late, your appointment will be cancelled, so I want to be sure I’m there in time. Let’s go.”
Having visited a few doctors in my life, and unable to count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I got in on time, I thought the concept of the office sign was interesting, obviously intended to keep things running on schedule. While I could appreciate that personally, it is even more important to the elderly for whom long waits are difficult on a lot of levels.
We arrived at the office 30 minutes ahead of time, and, sure enough, there was a large sign in the office window exactly as my mother had described it. Since my father was with us at the time, we left her at the office to run a few errands as he, too, had a medical appointment 90 minutes after her appointment.
We returned in about 45 minutes and I went into the office to meet with her. She was sitting in the same chair and said she hadn’t gotten in yet, but it should be any minute now because it was 15 minutes after her appointment time. I told her I’d wait outside with my dad, as he was too weak to walk into the office and I didn’t want to leave him alone in the vehicle too long.
To make a long story short, she came out much later, a full hour and a quarter after her appointment time, and she left without seeing the doctor because we had to get to my father’s appointment. She was very flustered and upset because she could not get her prescription without an appointment and to come back another time would require another two-hour road trip.
As she sat in the vehicle, bordering on tears, I asked her if she wanted me to go in and speak to the nurse and/or doctor, but she didn’t want me to because we needed to get going and, in her words, “they’ll do whatever they want anyway and it’ll be worse if we complain.”
I’m sure there was a good reason for such a delay in the doctor’s office, but to leave an 87-year-old patient sitting for almost two hours, with no explanation or consideration of the fact that her appointment really might take just a few minutes, seemed acutely unfair to me. And her fear that saying something might cause her even more difficulties in the future reminded me of the rationale used by children to avoid confronting bullies.
I thought again of the sign at the front that the patient must be no more than 10 minutes late or the appointment was cancelled. How nice to wield such power without accountability to your own responsibilities to be on time or to at least provide some compassionate explanation for keeping an elderly patient waiting for an extraordinarily long time.
Is that just bad bedside manner or might bullying be just as big a problem for the elderly as it is for the young?
Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare (firstname.lastname@example.org).