We all do it.
We get home from a medical appointment, sit down in our favorite chair, and almost feel our blood pressure drop 20 points. We cry tears of joy and exhaustion. The medical visit is over!
We just completed our yearly check up with our PCP (primary care physician), or dentist, or podiatrist, or any healthcare professional. We feel elated when we hear that we do not have to see them again for a year—unless “something comes up.” We are relieved because our doctors told us that our test results showed nothing to be worried about, that we could manage, and to call their office if anything changes.
We see our medical professionals regularly and go through all the standard tests they suggest we take. But we wonder, if we are being a good patient, what are we getting anxious about? Why do we live with anxiety and dread for days or weeks before our visits?
Of course, the primary concern of anyone visiting a doctor is that we might find out we have a medical problem. We might have a heart problem, blood pressure issues, cancer, or a chronic disease and an entire set of related medical problems. That one new health challenge usually means weeks or months of seeing specialists, having to go through new tests, and a big amount of time.
But many people are not anxious about finding out about a health challenge. Most of the time, they do not worry about a new health problem. What they often get nervous about are what can be called “medical visit side effects.”
The basic anxiety-producing items are not even medically related. We worry about driving to the medical office building. Is it going to rain, sleet, or snow? Will there be a close parking spot? I don’t want to go to the appointment alone, and who can take me?
Other items that might feed our medical visit anxiety can be related to being safe while in the doctor’s or dentist’s office. For example, people who have mobility problems might worry about transferring safely onto the dental chair/sofa. Sometimes getting onto the scale to be weighed can cause anxiety about safety. Others might get anxious while waiting in their doctor’s examination room. Does the coolness or heat in the room make you need to go to the bathroom, usually after you are seated on the examining table wearing a paper-towel-textured medical robe?
Others might be worried about seeing their healthcare professional and forgetting to ask a question that affects their day-to-day life. Even when a person writes down their medications and questions, it is easy to forget to ask that important question. Some people take a family member or friend to their appointment. Sometimes the patient gets frustrated because their companion “takes over” the appointment and asks the questions and carries on the appointment as if the real patient was not there.
Other items that can make us anxious are hearing problems, fear of having to go to a new specialist we do not know and being prescribed a number of medical tests, and, currently, worrying about being out in this time of the contagious pandemic.
Our medical anxiety can be lessened or controlled by a few tasks:
Wear comfortable, layered clothing and shoes
If you are in a waiting room for a long time, you can be comfortable with the clothing you wear. A sweater can be removed or kept on in the office if you are not comfortable with the room’s temperature. Be sure to bring your glasses, hearing aids, and a book to read or a game to play in the waiting room if the office allows phones. Usually, phones must be turned off in the doctor’s examination room.
Be honest with your doctor or dentist
Write down your concerns. Tell your doctor what is going on with your everyday life. Do medications make you uncomfortable? Can you be doing anything more to lessen symptoms? Make sure you are honest. Although talking about pain, bowel habits, and depression might be embarrassing to you, your doctor has heard it all. Use your office time to focus on what can help you. Sometimes it is just some advice that can help.
Make your needs known
Asking for help or information is a part of basic communication. When we talk to someone and find out where we can park, if someone can help us get on a scale to get weighed, or if a nurse can help us transfer to a table, we are prepared for a visit. Knowledge makes us feel more comfortable and can lessen anxiety, not only about new places or unfamiliar practices, but also our typical office visits. Healthcare professionals want to help and receive requests from people quite often.
I have learned through my many years of not only living with a mobility disability (multiple sclerosis, MS), but just plain daily living, that communication is a basic and fundamental part of life. Whether it’s calling the pharmacist to see if my prescription is ready, or reminding a friend that there is a church activity over the weekend, talking to someone, confirming an appointment, etc., is just basic good sense.
We all might get a bit anxious about going to medical appointments for a number of reasons. That’s why calling ahead and telling the staff about your concerns can help your appointment be a little less stressful. It might be good to tell a family member or a friend of your concerns. Remember, your concerns are real—even if a person tries to tell you not to worry, you have nothing to be concerned about, etc. Your anxiety is real.
I do not know whether the following quote is real, or where it comes from, but I have heard it a number of times: “Every surgery is routine, unless it’s yours.”