A Patient’s Perspective

By Lloyd Graff

Today I get to do my twenty-first straight day of radiation treatment. Don’t feel sorry for me at all, this is my fortunate opportunity to save my sight by deactivating a slow growing benign tumor in my brain which is dangerously close to my optic nerve. The proximity to the nerve is the reason that the surgeon who operated on me two years ago left the remnant of the tumor. It was just too close, even for the most skilled surgeon, to remove the whole thing.

I have been doing the radiation at around noon, which is the ideal time to navigate the traffic from my office to the hospital and back without dramatically messing up my work day. It is a 25-minute trip each way. On most days, the radiation procedure, from hitting the hospital to walking out the door to head back to my office is 30 minutes, except when I see my doctor.

The weekly doctor meeting is what prompted me to write this piece.

My primary doctor for this procedure has been informative and positive. He told me and my wife, Risa, that he has treated many cases very similar to mine with excellent results. He told me I might experience a little fatigue, but it will go away after the treatments are over. The reason for 30 small doses of radiation rather than 3-7 larger zaps is that it is safer and usually more effective in the long term for this kind of tumor.

So far, I have felt absolutely tiptop. Except when I have seen the doctor who has subbed for my regular doctor when he has been away over the past month.

The radiation oncologist who has seen me on two occasions (although I think he forgot he saw me the first time) has given off a strangely different vibe.

When I saw him last Thursday he asked me with distinctly low energy how I was feeling. I told him I was “feeling great.” I said the “great” with emphasis because I knew he was going to continue with a line of questioning aimed at discovering problems I was having.

“Have you been nauseous?” “No,” I said. “Have you lost any sight?” he asked. “No, my vision is the same.” “How tired are you?” he asked. I answered truthfully that my workouts have been better during the course of the treatment. “I have felt tired around 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon, but I always do,” I told him. “It will get worse,” he said.

I could not wait to get out of the office. I had girded myself for his negativity when I discovered my regular doctor was not in, but he still eroded my upbeat mood. I became angry.

I recently listened to a Seth Godin podcast on the power of placebo. Numerous clinical tests have shown that placebos are often as effective as medicines and treatments. This radiologist, in a 10-minute session, where he did not seem to want to be, had undermined my positive outlook.

I decided to write him a note giving him a patient’s perspective on our meeting. I looked him up that night on the hospital’s Website, guessed what his email address was and wrote him a letter about what it felt like for me at that last meeting. I read it to Risa and she advised caution about sending it. I decided not to send it, but then I read his vitae and saw that he specialized in treating kids. At that point connecting with him became about his child patients and their parents. Maybe an email from me telling him how it felt to be his patient would help him as he dealt with kids who were a lot more vulnerable than I was.

I sent the email to the doctor at 9:30 p.m. last Thursday and wondered if I would get a reply.

He did send a short email back the next day. He addressed it to “Mr. Lloyd.” He did correct that a while later, but I wonder if I got through to him at all.

I don’t believe the doctor is a jerk, but I don’t think he knows how to communicate with his patients to help them believe in their treatment and their ability to heal. It’s an issue we all have in our relationships, but for a doctor the costs of messing things up are greater than just an everyday misstep.

Question: Are you afraid to go to the doctor?

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18 thoughts on “A Patient’s Perspective

  1. Emily Halgrimson Post author

    I’m not afraid to go to the doctor, I hate doctors. I find them generally arrogant, insincere, and not nearly as smart as they think they are. I avoid them as much as possible.

  2. Rod Hatcher

    I am not afraid to go to the doctor. However, over the last few years I have moved strongly from never questioning a doctors instructions/advice to carefully investigating and evaluating everything I am told. I have not liked the results.

  3. Jeff zvolanek

    I do not trust any of the doctors – a doctor and his staff nearly killed my wife with shear negligence and was an arrogant POS afterwards. He lied to me directly about his schedule and the outcome of the procedure. Glad they make so much money (he saw 36 patients on a day where he was too busy to return a call or make a decision on a septic patient). They rely on their nurses and staff to handle way too many important details. His legal team admitted they are far more tuned in to the next surgery patient than the last. Great philosophy and no doubt those who fall thru the cracks pay the ultimate price.

  4. Gayle

    I think going to the doctor is stressful for most people. I’d like to mention though that as a woman, it’s even worse. Often times complaints of pain are dismissed or it’s assumed to be attributed to “female issues”. You have to be an advocate for yourself. If you have a bad experience with one doctor, ask to switch. I’d recommend letting your primary doctor know how your experience was. They have to work with these people so they should be aware how they are negatively impacted their patients.

  5. Bob Ducanis

    I don’t care to go to the doctor but sometimes you have to. My doctors have generally been very nice. Possibly Lloyd had an appointment with the substitute doctor that was just having a bad day. It happens. If your doctor is a real jerk, I recommend that he or she watch 1991 movie, The Doctor, with William Hurt playing an arrogant doctor that is diagnosed with throat cancer. He comes to realize the practice of medicine thru the eyes of a critically ill patient……his own eyes.

  6. al bjork

    how many of you have spent more time picking out a carbide drill than you spent finding a doctor. i have great doctors and i see them as often. of course you geniuses can find the answer to all your problems on google. good luck with that

  7. Jim

    I am not afraid to go to see the doctor but sometimes fearful of the unknown causes of certain symptoms before going. I go to the doctor as a regular course of business every 6 months. Once per year is a full physical and the other is an exam and blood work just to see how everything is going. I am not a person with chronic illness but someone who wants to check regularly as a preventative measure (must be the quality control background). I have a great primary care doctor who is friendly, analytical, and observant. One of my dearest friends is a pediatric oncologist. I am convinced it is one of the toughest jobs on earth. He is the friendliest, most upbeat, most humble, faith-filled person I know. I am extremely blessed to have him as a friend.

  8. John Bressoud

    For years I put up with a primary care physician who thought the answer to every problem was in a pill. When I mentioned a symptom he would reply “there is a pill for that”. If I brought up a possible side effect he would say “there is a pill for that as well”. Fortunately I only needed to see him once a year for an annual checkup. Once he retired I did not replace him. I find that Nurse Practitioners are more capable.

  9. Loyola

    Lloyd, do you want your doctor to have a great bedside manner or do you want a great doctor. its very very rare that you are going to get both.

    i play golf with a doctor almost everyday in the evenings.

    there are days where he is completely drained. the other day he had 2 emergencies first thing in the morning. one of them was 12 year old girl with a tumor. after doing surgery all day, he had to go back to the office to catch up on a few appointments and then worked on his day off to see the rest of the patients. 80% of the patients who came the next day were upset that they were cancelled the day before. he is the smartest guy i know and he is sick and tired of being a doctor. he is making about 60% of what he made 10 years ago.

    the other thing my friend says is that 80% of his patients dont tell him the truth because their embarrassed. how do you treat someone like that.

    doctoring is not an exact science. they use their knowledge and experience to take their best shot.

    what if the doctor you saw was with a 5 year old with terminal cancer right before he saw you. would you expect him to be perky when he got to you. you might not realize this, but there are alot of sick people in hospitals.

    your the only one in charge of your attitude. if you want to be positive, you will be. if you want to let the outside world affect you, then you will be depressed for 98% of your life.

    look at the comments you started from the morons who dont trust doctors. tomorrow is a funeral for someone who worked for me for 30 years. he was afraid of doctors and wouldnt go. he lived 4 weeks after he saw a doctor for the first time in 54 years. stage 4 cancer of the lungs, liver, brain and a blood infection. would have been treatable a few years ago. but then again, he is much smarter than any doctors.

    there are good and bad in every profession. you just have to make sure you find a good one.

    bottom line, i think you were way out of line to whine about your attitude to a child radiation oncologist.

  10. Noah Graff


    I totally get where you are coming from. You are in a vulnerable state and very sensitive to the tone of the doctor. The doctor sounds like he doesn’t have a good bedside manner. Or at least he hasn’t had his A game when dealing with you. The comment where he said “it will get worse” stinks. It might mess with my head too.

    That said.

    Doctors are trying to get solid data to understand the situations. “No” questions like “are you feeling tired?” or “have you lost sight?” are straight forward questions to get good data. Asking you “how are you seeing?” “How are you feeling?” are useful but they are more likely to get a less useful response. As the previous commenter wrote, people often lie. A simple no question is more likely to get something accurate.

    A patient is subjective and emotional and is not an expert. Yes, you know your body in a way that nobody else does, but you are too biased and uneducated to understand what is going on. Maybe you are smarter than a lot of patients or more well read, but even doctors have to go to other doctors to get objective analysis.

    The doctor needs to work on his presentation. He needs to remember your name and pay attention to your name when he is responding to you via email. That’s a sign of respect.

    The doctor may be a jerk, but probably he just doesn’t have good bedside manner or didn’t have it that day.

  11. Dave

    You guys should have read the sign above the door at the Dr’s office……………….it says they are practicing medicine.

  12. Carol

    Most Doctors’ are in a hurry to get you through the process. They really don’t care about you. It’s getting you in and out. My advice is to know your body and react to the doctor about that. I rarely see doctors’ because I know my body and how it works. If something is so wrong that I quite do not understand, I will see a doctor.

  13. Bruskie

    Doctors are a bit like lawyers, they suck, until you really need one. Some years back I went through 11 months of heavy treatments that my life depended on, I was extremely sick the entire time. What I found was sometimes my doctor was helpful and upbeat, sometimes that same doctor was tired and introverted. We all have good and bad days, why would a doctor be any different? One thing I can tell you is if your injured or very sick the doc becomes a hero pretty quickly.

  14. Mindy Mikami

    I LOVE my doctor and consider myself lucky to have her. Recently, I had some health-related numbers that were not good. After my follow-up blood test (after watching my diet and getting regular exercise), the numbers came down so far that my doctor actually texted me to share the awesome results. She said that she didn’t want to wait for me to receive the traditional letter that gets sent out after lab work. When I do well, she gives me a great big hug and is almost more excited than I am. When things aren’t great, she is calm and gives me options about how to get better. She is SO awesome!

    I used to work as a medical translator, and have seen all kinds of doctors. I mostly had good experiences, but sometimes found myself working more as a patient advocate than a translator because both doctor and staff were not providing high-quality service. I hate that you had to go through the experience of subpar bedside manner. Good thing you are a generally positive person and are strong enough to not let that get you down. I am cheering for your continued progress.

  15. Emily Halgrimson Post author

    It just struck me that maybe that day you were meant to be the positive, upbeat one, Lloyd, and to help him feel better. Sometimes we’re the recipient of love and kindness and positive energy, and other days we’re called on to be the giver. The fact that he had the title of doctor and you had one of patient at that moment might make you expect a certain type of exchange, but in real life titles don’t matter much. It was one person feeling blah sitting with another who felt positive. The blah one can bring the positive one down, or the positive one can bring the blah one up.

    1. Mindy Mikami

      Emily, I love that idea. I will keep it in mind the next time I find myself in EITHER position!


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