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Dr. Roach: Lessons learned from in-office panic attack

Keith Roach
To Your Health

Dear Dr. Roach: I just returned from my annual examination. I have been this doctor’s patient for more than 15 years.

I sat in the small, windowless, uncomfortable and cold waiting room to see the doctor. After 30 minutes of waiting, I began to sweat, and my heart raced. I opened the door and called the nurse. I said I was sick of waiting and made other remarks that I am sorry to have said. Then I continued to wait.

When the doctor arrived, I voiced my feelings. To my shock, the doctor exploded with a verbal tone I never would have expected. She shouted that her practice is above and beyond the care most doctors give, that her workload with government mandates has changed her practice, making it much more difficult over the years, swearing and saying more than once, “This is not what I signed up for.” To say she was furious with me is an understatement.

I began to cry uncontrollably but got my act together enough to apologize for my comments and ask if we both could calm down and continue with the exam. She reluctantly continued with a very limited physical exam. The doctor said she felt I was so disrespectful that I should find a new doctor; I am no longer “a good fit” to be her patient.

As I left the office, I realized I had been having a panic attack in the small space and lashed out in an irrational way. But from this I learned three valuable pieces of information that I would like to pass on:

My first piece of advice would be to discuss with your doctor how to handle disagreements before they happen.

Secondly, doctors should realize some people panic in small spaces and should be aware of having a small, uncomfortable waiting room. At my next (new) doctor visit, I will let the staff know that I can become panicked in a small room, so they will know I have a limit to how long I can be in that confined space.

Third, the staff at the doctor’s office should be checking on patients as they sit and wait (for more than 10 minutes). This would make the entire doctor visit more pleasant, with fewer complaints on everyone’s part.

I hope my sharing this information will help other doctors and patients.

N.C.

Dear N.C.: Wow.

I wish that your doctor had a small fraction of the wisdom you showed. While I understand the frustrations of being in a busy practice, there is no excuse for what your doctor did to you. I’m printing your letter in hopes that my colleagues can learn from your experience.

Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.