Television does not lack a plethora of medical shows. If it isn’t vampires or police detectives racing across the screen, chances are it is a doctor and a patient. Often, the scene focuses on someone sitting in a chair in front of a massive desk (notice reports are never delivered in the exam rooms as in the real world?), fidgeting and often filling the tense silence with staccato conversation or insincere small talk as they wait for “the news”.
On many shows, the medical report is given and devastation ensues. Slowly, the person comes to terms with a dire diagnosis that involves trial medications, exploratory tests, immediate surgeries and multiple specialists. This person squares his shoulders, stands up taller and then forges on, despite an illness or condition that would bring us regular viewers to our knees.
But what happens to the person who sits in that chair and waits for a diagnosis and is told that all of the tests and exams are negative? Everything is fine?
Rejoicing? Relief? Fade to a happy ending?
But there are those of us who are sitting in that chair, waiting for a report, with fingers crossed, prayers whispered, and hopes held high that the news will be, “We found something.” These are the people that are in pain, who have something that hurts—maybe not every single minute of the day, but enough to interfere with the enjoyment of life. These are the people who rely too heavily on aspirin to make it through the afternoon, who pop over the counter pain meds like House does his vicodin. They go in for medical tests, they write down lists of questions for the doctors, they research for hours on the web, searching forums and sites for their precise set of symptoms. Some of them use up their insurance benefits in the journey; others strain family budgets to pay out of pocket. When the MRI starts thumping, when the needle pierces the surface, when the x-ray captures an image, when the ultrasound gel slides like an ice cube over the skin, these people are not chanting, “Please don’t see anything”. They are pleading, “Please find something.”
Because they need to know what is causing their pain—even if it isn’t treatable or it’s permanent--heck, even if it’s lethal. They need a doctor to validate that there is a reason they are hurting. The pain isn’t a cry for attention, a psychosomatic complaint, or an obviously weak ability to handle discomfort. They need someone to point to an image, a test result, a report and say, “Of course you’re in pain! Here is why.” Handing that person results that say, “You’re fine!” can be shattering. Because that means they are back to square one. They are back to doubting themselves. They are back to questioning their ability to cope with pain. They are back to losing confidence in their emotional and physical strength. They are back to wondering if they just have an overactive imagination. Sure they feel the pain, but perhaps they are hypochondriacs and just never realized it? The pain doesn’t have a cause--those test results say so.
Picture that scene. A doctor’s office, a desk, an anxious patient. He reaches across the desk and smiles patiently. The test results are back—and all is well. No abnormalities. Somehow, as caring and compassionate as those TV doctors are portraying, none of them follow that up with, So we need to keep searching for the cause of that pain. Let’s try this next . . . Instead, they pat you on the back, congratulate you on the great news and send you on your way.
Cut scene. Fade to black.
Leaving the patient to go back to your regularly scheduled life—with pain and no diagnosis. What a tragedy.