Medical Standard Time

September 6, 2012

Like most MD Anderson patients, many of my visits include a variety of scans such as CT and MRI. Since I need two MRIs, my schedule consists of a CT and MRI on one day, followed by the second MRI the next day. Even though it can be done safely, insurance restrictions and MD Anderson policy will not allow more than one MRI per day

In order to minimize the amount of time I have to spend in Houston, Patient Scheduling sets up my appointments as close together as possible. As a result, my first day of appointments is chock-full, often concluding with the CT, followed by the first MRI.

With all of the appointments stuffed into the first day, I find myself at MD Anderson for eight to twelve hours. Even with everything on the schedule, I end up with a lot of time on my hands. First off, there is the time between appointments themselves. Things like bloodwork and x-rays don’t usually take much time, but for procedures like CTs or MRIs that require a lot of preparation, it’s a different story.

And if one appointment takes longer than the scheduled time, something breaks down, or one of the imaging centers is simply short-handed, things start backing up and everyone’s appointment gets delayed. At that point, a day that is already filled with nervousness and uneasy feelings because of why we’re at MD Anderson goes from uneasy to unbearable.

Instead of being calm and easygoing, we become impatient, short-tempered and aggravated. Soon we find ourselves snapping at nurses, technicians and other caregivers. Being human themselves, it isn’t long before our providers respond in kind. And there goes everybody’s day, not mention everyone’s good mood.

In an angry moment, you might be tempted to say, “So what?! I’m the one with cancer! Why should I have to be nice to anybody?” But you know it doesn’t help; not really.

And while the person at the MRI control console probably doesn’t have cancer, they are trained to provide your doctor with the images needed to help make an accurate, effective diagnosis. So it really is in your own best interest to have the exam go correctly; even when that means enduring an appointment schedule that is running very late.

You can always tell when the phenomena I call Medical Standard time has kicked in. It’s 45 minutes past your scheduled time and you haven’t been called yet; everyone from the receptionist to the Imaging Technician seems to be having a bad day; and the room is full of grumbles and sour expressions.

So what can you do about it without making yourself and the staff crazy?

First off, recognize and accept the idea that despite everyone’s best efforts, delays and schedule mishaps do happen. Those delays are as frustrating to the folks who work at MD Anderson as they are to those of us being treated here. When asking about the cause of the delay, remember the Golden Rule. A polite inquiry will get you a lot further than a beligerent, demanding diatribe.

I’ve found it’s better to plan on tests taking a long time rather than hoping I’ll be done quickly. Take CT scans for example. You know you’re going to spend a couple of hours drinking the Barium mix and trying to keep it down. So why not bring a favorite book, magazine or e-book reader? Or follow your kids’ lead and bring an MP3 player loaded with your favorite music.

Most of the time, I have my iPad with me. Besides being able to use the free Internet access that MD Anderson provides, I’ve loaded several e-books and my writing projects on it. With everything available, if I get tired of one activity, I can easily switch to something else.

Most waiting rooms have a variety of magazines and books available. And many of the clinics have pagers, similar to the ones restaurants use, that will signal you when it’s your turn. That way, you’re not tied to a waiting room and you’re free to get a bite to eat or go for a walk to pass the time.

If you have family or friends waiting with you, encourage them to follow some of the same ideas. If your appointment is going to be especially long, MD Anderson has a great concierge service that can suggest some fun diversions for your family while you are in having your scan. They are a fantastic resource and it’s free for patients and their families.

Are you and your family having a tough time emotionally dealing with being at MD Anderson? That can make the waiting time for appointments and treatment even more difficult. There is a wide variety of personal counseling services available including support groups, social workers and spiritual counselors from a variety of faiths and denominations.

Talking to someone about your feelings can make a huge difference in how you handle your treatment, not to mention your family’s feelings about your cancer. My family and I can tell you first-hand it makes all the difference.

Don’t hesitate to ask for this kind of help when you need it. It’s there to help us get through cancer treatment without feeling so alone and overwhelmed.

Nobody is happy when appointment delays happen; patients; families; providers; no one. Delays mess up everyone’s day. Rather than make a bad day worse, try to take it in stride and adjust your expectations accordingly. You’ll make it easier on yourself and those around you.

And while you’re waiting, remember to thank the staff for the work they do. The ones I’ve met take it as personally as we do when a day goes good or bad. While many of them don’t have cancer, they’re dedicating themselves to helping us beat ours. The fact that we’re usually working with the best in the business is worth the wait and a thank you.

I’ve often said it takes patience to be a patient. Nowhere is that more evident than when waiting for an appointment. Try to think of it this way. We’re here because we need the best treatment in the world to fight our cancer. So when you consider our goal, the wait is definitely worth the time.