My last few months have been busy with medical appointments, dental cleanings, stomach issues, and my third cyst removal. I am grateful and privileged to have generally good health and health insurance to manage when I am unwell or need preventative care. My full-time job pre-Covid involves helping Medicaid members navigate the health care system. I was embedded in a primary care office, and I have attended three times as many appointments with a member for every medical appointment I have been for myself.
From ophthalmology to gynecology, I have sat in waiting rooms, held hands, and used mindfulness skills to help members meet their needs with providers. But, of course, a lot of what I do happens outside of these appointments. From scheduling appointments to writing down a goal and even googling, the provider can make medical appointments successful.
I have witnessed some stigmatizing language, offensive staff, and many members who have had horrible experiences with medical and mental health providers. So it's understandable that returning to a specialist after a terrible experience might cause you stress. Understandably, the thought of making an appointment may send you into a tizzy, take three years to set up, and may be out of grasp for you right now- I understand.
Here are some tips that may help create a safe space and get your needs met.
Before scheduling an appointment
Practice some mindfulness like paced breathing
Remind yourself how proud you will be after making this call
Remind yourself about how this is working towards a goal like better health, not thinking or being nervous about that mysterious new pain, or better sleep.
Make a list of symptoms you're experiencing and questions you have for your doctor. They may ask you why you need to see a provider when you call.
Making the appointment
Ask how long this procedure/exam will take
Choose the best time for you. Morning gives you time for the rest of the day to self-soothe or recovery. Evening/end the day may be best for you to take a bath and go right to bed after.
If possible, bring a friend. They can sit in the lobby, maybe write some things down for you or save you the stress of driving
Write things down; it could be a journal of your thoughts or a list of goals you have for this appointment. Has it been three years since you last had labs? Never followed up about that abnormal pap in 2014, mysterious pain after eating rice- no matter how big or small, write it down. I often find phone notes on hand.
Celebrate that you made this appointment!!!
A few days prior
Google search pictures; how are the rooms set up, the lobby, what floor is the office on? Do the rooms have windows?
Get directions and give yourself some extra travel time.
Plan ahead for some aftercare.
Pack fidget items, paperwork, and any comfort items, including earplugs.
During an appointment/exam/procedure
Ask for what you need from staff; sometimes, I will put this on the form if there is a general section, so it's in a chart for future reference.
Can you tell me what you are doing as you go?
Will this hurt? Can you give me a heads up when it will?
Can you let me know when we are halfway through, or the hard part is over, etc.?
Can someone else be in the room like another staff member if you couldn't bring someone? (I have asked for this many times and never been told no or felt judged.)
How do I signal I need a short break?
Use your tools, both DBT skills; fidget toys, earplugs, podcasts, or your mindfulness app on full blast.
You did it! Pat yourself on the back!
Engage in pre-planned self-care, wind down and relax.
You can celebrate and have lunch right after with the friend you brought along (or you know, me, if I am your Case Manager) or take it easy on your own
Focus on having completed this big job and try not to focus on future appointments, lab results, and what if's. You took this step, and the next one will come later.