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Hospitals Blind to Patient Fears


Visits to hospitals aren’t something any of us look forward to. As a child, I feared the local hospital more than a rabid dog because I had been treated poorly and suffered pain as a result of their brutal care. Not everyone was like that, but in the clinics where we had to go, it was “practice time” for too many inexperienced people. As I grew older, I no longer had to go to the clinic and I managed to handle my fear, but there are still things hospitals appear blind to. Allow me to elaborate. You may find you can relate to some of them, too.


Certainly, there are words associated with medical care which have a certain amount of fear or stress associated with them even when used by highly experienced staff. These include: needles, stitches, scalpel, anesthesia, biopsy, blood draws, and even CT or MRI scans. The latter two carry that feeling of being imprisoned and unable to escape and that can be an extremely unpleasant experience. I never fully understood until I had to have a CT scan and then I became totally familiar with the panic so many people experience. It was very difficult to keep myself calm. I managed, but it took all my emotional and psychological resources to do so.

When a friend had to go to see a hematologist, it didn’t seem so upsetting to her until she went to the hospital to see him. Over the doorway leading to the corridor of offices was a large sign, “HEMATOLOGY/ONCOLOGY Section.” What word do you think sent her back on her heels? Yes, oncology.

Unfortunately, hospitals and physicians haven’t really given too much thought to the mind-body connection even though they know about it.

Anyone who is sensitive to patient feelings knows that the very word “oncology” sets a tone of deep concern, if not fear from the outset. But since hematologists take residencies that include oncology, they usually practice with oncologists even though they may not specialize in oncology.

Now my friend is truly upset because the paperwork she’s received indicates that there are a number of tests/questions that are pointing, in advance, to exploring for cancer. She hadn’t given a thought to a diagnosis of cancer, but now she is and it’s stressing her terribly. Each day that the appointment gets closer, the stress level rises and each form she has to complete puts it up yet another notch.

It would be a simple thing to change the sign so that it points to two different departments and doesn’t lump hematology in with oncology (aka cancer).


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DR. PATRICIA A. FARRELL