Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Dan and his wife, Sally, just had a conversation that both would agree they have had too many times.
Dan was trying to explain a change in his regimen, but Sally just didn’t seem to understand. It was unclear to her why his doctor would make any change, and especially this change. His new regimen was going to impact her and, to be honest, was going to be downright inconvenient.
As Dan tried to explain why the regimen change was needed, he felt like he was trying to defend his doctor’s decision, as well as try to educate Sally on the new regimen and reasons for making this move. He wasn’t feeling very successful.
Searching for understanding
As they talked, Dan couldn’t help but feel like he wasn’t getting the support he needed from his wife. It wasn’t that he doubted that Sally loves him, not at all. But they had been down this road many times since he first received his diagnosis. He asked himself if expecting Sally to understand what it was like to live with his chronic condition was expecting too much.
“Sally, I have to tell you. I’m feeling alone in all of this right now. And I feel like you’re being a little judgmental.”
“That’s not my intention at all. And I can see I’m frustrating you,” Sally finally said. “I’m frustrated too. However,” she continued, “I have an idea. What if I came with you to your next doctor’s appointment? With your permission, of course. The three of us could talk about your new regimen. Your doctor could answer our questions and we could both hear the same information. And he could give me some ideas on how to support you.”
“Wow,” Dan answered. “I should have thought of that.”
A meeting of the minds benefits you, your partner, and your doctor
What about you and your partner? Are you always in sync on the what and the why and the how of your treatment regimen? And if not, does that sometimes result in miscommunication, along with frustration?
If so, have you ever thought of sitting down together and having a chat with your doctor? There are a lot of benefits to the three of you meeting together. For one thing, as Sally suggested, you would both have the same information. That means the partner who is living with a health condition won’t have to try and translate medical information. Your partner would get it straight from the doctor. Also, your physician has a unique perspective on what it takes to live with your diagnosis. He or she could explain how your condition and its treatment impact you not only physically but emotionally. And the three of you could talk about how you and your partner can work together in a way that helps both of your needs to be recognized and accommodated.
After all, when one member of the home is living with a chronic condition, everybody is living with it.
Sound like a good idea? Here’s how to organize a doctor’s visit with you and your partner:
Make sure you are both comfortable with this. You may feel that your time with your doctor is yours alone, and not something you want to share. Or you may have a concern over how your partner may behave in the meeting, e.g. dominate the conversation or express criticism of your doctor. Essentially, both you and your partner need to be willing to come to the meeting with a spirit of cooperation and an open mind.
Ask your doctor. When you call to set up the appointment, make sure the physician is made aware that your partner will accompany you and is comfortable with that. You may want to ask his or her receptionist to check with the doctor before the appointment time is finalized. Also, be aware of how much time your physician has available, so that you can prioritize your goals for the conversation accordingly.
Set some ground rules. You and your partner should be clear with each other on the level of participation you will both have. Will one of you lead the conversation? Who will ask the questions, or will you share that task? Other ground rules might include not dredging up issues from the past that either of you have regarding your doctor’s decisions, or otherwise lodging complaints. That is, unless you both decide that there are concerns the doctor needs to be aware of. You know your doctor, but your partner may not—so you will most likely know the best way to approach this discussion.
Make a list of questions. Keep in mind that you will have limited time. And your doctor’s answers may be more detailed than you expected. So decide together on what the most important questions are. After you have created your list, review it from the perspective of how much time you will have. You may want to arrange the questions in order of priority. You might also want to consider typing out the list and giving your doctor a copy.
Be clear with your doctor. At the beginning of the meeting, clarify why you are both present and what you hope to accomplish. It will help your doctor to be more open if you make sure he or she understands this is a meeting to gain knowledge and increase cooperation, and not to ambush him or her with complaints and criticism. Keep in mind that enlisting your partner can have a positive impact on your adherence, and this benefits not only you but your doctor by making his or her job easier. So, hopefully, your physician will view a three-way meeting as a good use of his or her time.
Try to leave with a clear direction. You might base this on your overall goal. For example, are you there to understand something specific about the diagnosis? Or how to best be adherent with treatment? Or to learn more about what to plan for going forward? This might require asking your doctor for clarification, and then checking in with each other to make sure you are all on the same page. Focusing on what you hope to take away from the appointment helps to make the best use of this time.
You, your partner, and your doctor. Sit down together and talk things out. Take time to understand each other’s perspective and role in helping you to manage your chronic condition. Doesn’t it make sense to have some face time together? After all, the three of you are on the same team.
Have you taken your partner to doctor appointments? Did it help? Share your experience and advice by commenting below.