PATIENT JOANNE 'X'
Summoning up all her skills as an actress of character parts,
Joanne battles depression as she plays a depressing role.
Her latest role: Helping new doctors up close
By JOANNE ENGELHARDT
I had a stroke two months ago. It was really scary. When I woke up in the morning, the upper right side of my body felt funny and weak. I got up and looked in the mirror. When I saw that the right side of my face was drooping I cried out, Oh my God! and ran to the phone to dial 911. I started to tell the operator what was wrong, but the words wouldnt come out of my mouth very well. I stumbled through and finally got out, I think Ive had a stroke.
It took about 15 minutes for the ambulance to arrive to take me to the hospital. I stayed there for three days while the doctors did a lot of tests and poked and prodded my body all over. Two of my children flew out to be with me in the hospital, and they stayed with me for a few days after I was discharged. They took me to my physical therapy appointments, and when I felt I could get along on my own, I told them they needed to go back to their own families and their busy lives.
Over the next few weeks my face got better, and I think I can talk all right now, but my right hand is still very weak. Today I have a follow-up appointment at the medical clinic and I hope the doctor will be able to help my hand gain back its strength.
Because I havent been able to do very much since the stroke--I cant play bridge any more, my handwriting is almost illegible, and its really hard for me to try to button my clothing or even pull up a zipper--Ive been feeling more and more down. I just dont seem to have any interest in much anymore. Im not interested in food, or taking walks like I used to, and I dont want anyone to come over to visit me because I dont want them to see me looking like an invalid.
I guess Ive even thought about hurting myself. Im now taking pills for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, so sometimes Ive thought that I could just take a lot of my pills and be done with it. I mean ..I dont have an actual plan or anything. Ive thought about it, but Ive always been able to talk myself out of it.
Well thats pretty darned depressing, isnt it?
Actually, nothing that I wrote above has happened to me, but Ive been acting all of that out almost daily for the last few weeks. I have to tell you that once you start thinking about yourself in those terms for hours on end, you actually DO get kind of depressed.
Why, you might ask, would anyone want to pretend she's had a stroke and is depressed? Some day youll probably thank me for doing it because our future doctors get to practice on people like me while theyre still in medical school rather than on you when (and if) they graduate and become MDs.
You see, in recent years many medical schools recognized the importance of teaching their students that healing the emotional side of their patients is as important (if not more so) as healing their physical ailments. Thats when they began hiring actors to be patients to give med students the opportunity to practice their skills in semi-realistic scenarios.
Sure, I get paid for being a patient, but I also find it rewarding--sometimes exhilarating-- when a young doctor-to-be nails my complex diagnoses and offers me the right kinds of treatment.
One of the students I had last week was a quite-lovely young woman who sauntered in with a brilliant smile and enchanted me with her friendly greeting. Dumb-ox that I am, I sized her up as a blonde bimbo who would fail this patient visit miserably.
She probably was one of the most promising med students I evaluated! (Why-oh-why dont I remember that maxim Dont judge a book by its cover??) I gave her outstanding marks--and would be delighted to find her reviewing my medical record any day.
Frankly, I think its plumb wonderful that medical schools have recognized the invaluable benefit of making their students far more well rounded than just being a whiz at medical terminology with the ability to diagnose illnesses. How many of you have had to switch doctors due to changing your medical plans? Or your physician retired, you moved to a new city, or a new company? Probably just about everyone. And: How many of you ended up with a doctor who was obviously lacking in the areas of human interaction, basic communication skills, empathy, compassion--all of the above?
I know I have. So if I can do one little thing to help make more of those medical robots into the kind of doctor Id like to have (and I know youd like to have, too), then I consider that a special thing indeed. It wasnt always easy to have just the right kind of countenance--not so sad that the student immediately knows I have far more on my mind than weakness in my hand, and not so perky that the doc-in-training works out some physical therapy for me and sends me on my way.
After playing this role all day, there were times I came home feeling pretty down.
Especially when I had several students in a row who I wouldnt wish on any sick patient. But I get to give feedback--both online and in person--so each student learns what he or she did right--or didnt do at all.
Since I finished this role less than two weeks before Christmas, I have to say that the rewarding part of all this is seeing a students eager face absorbing my every word - both the good and the bad. Ill never forget one doctor who walked back in the room hitting himself on the head and saying Bad doctor, bad! I looked at him quizzically, and he explained, I cant believe I didnt ask you if you had ever considered suicide! I really didnt have to beat up on him; he was doing an excellent job of it himself.
Sometimes a student listened unflinchingly as I explained how I felt as a patient - even when most of what I said was negative. And quite often the response was: I really appreciate getting that feedback. Thank you.
If those few simple words were the only Christmas gift l get this year, Id consider myself very blessed indeed.
©2006 by Joanne Engelhardt. The illustration is from IMSI'S Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA. This column first posted Jan. 1, 2006.
Joanne Engelhardt is an experienced stage actor in San Francisco Bay Area theater productions..
You can comment on this column online. Please address your message to either "The Editors" or Joanne Engelhardt. To send an email, click here and don't forget to mention Joanne's name: firstname.lastname@example.org
HOME About Us Index To
Talkback Contact Us