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Doctor’s appointment

I had my annual physical last week with a new doctor for the first time in a long time.

My previous doctor – and coincidentally Elysha’s doctor as well – retired last year, so after more than two decades with the same doctor, I had to find myself a new one.

I had no idea how stressful this process would be. After placing my health and well-being in the hands of a person for nearly half of my life, I had to replace her with someone new.

I’m thrilled to report that I’ve made an outstanding choice. I could not be happier with my new doctor.

I’d actually seen her twice prior to my physical – once before my surgery for a pre-op check and once about a year ago for something minor, which is when I decided to give her a try as my primary care physician. She seemed competent enough to deal with my minor ailment to at least give her a shot.

So we’d already spent some time talking about my medical history, but last week was the first time she was conducting a full physical on me.

She made quite the impression.

Granted, she had some good news for me. My cholesterol remains excellent and continues to drop after being slightly elevated a few years ago. A switch to oatmeal nearly every day for lunch, in addition to my already daily exercise routine, did the trick.

But rather than simply reporting on this good news, she said things like, “I’m so proud of you” and “It’s not easy to get your cholesterol down so quickly and so consistently” and “Good job!”

And she meant it. She said these words with enthusiasm and a smile, even though I couldn’t see the smile behind her mask. But I could hear the smile in the upbeat, almost excited way that she spoke. She was thrilled for me. Genuinely happy to see my progress, even though it had begun years before I had ever met her.

She also took a moment to check my blood pressure after the nurse had already checked it upon arrival. I asked her for the reason behind this second check. She explained that my blood pressure was high when the nurse took it, but now that I was relaxed, she wanted to check it again. On the recheck, it was normal, which was also great since I have been eliminating salt from parts of my diet based upon her suggestion during our pre-op check.

“Great job,” she said. “You got your blood pressure down, too. Really impressive.”

In addition to exercise and fiber, she recommended that I add more omega-3 to my diet to improve my cholesterol even more.

“But my cholesterol is good now,” I said. “Right?”

“Yes,” she said. “But there’s always room for improvement.”

I liked this, too. She wasn’t just checking off boxes. My cholesterol is fine now. She could’ve moved on, but instead, she chose to see me as someone who could do even better.

When I asked what I could eat to get omega-3, she recommended avocado.

I told her that avocados are disgusting. They also use an unconscionable amount of water to grow.

“Almonds?” she said.

“Even worse for the environment. They require even more water to grow.”


“Ew,” I said. “My mother used to buy maple walnut ice cream as a kid. Of all the flavors of ice cream in the world, my mom found the one ice cream flavor that was disgusting.”


I told her I didn’t know what flaxseed was, but it was clearly named by someone who didn’t want people to think it tasted good.

We finally settled on fish, which I like if it swims and doesn’t crawl, and occasional fish oil supplements, which are fine, too. I don’t take any medications whatsoever and am trying to keep it that way, but a supplement at dinnertime is better than earth-killing avocados or almonds and a hell of a lot better than walnuts.

Admittedly, I eat cheeseburgers, which are also terrible for the world for so many reasons, but at least they’re delicious.

All of this put my mind at ease and made me feel like my doctor was a person who was willing to spend time with me as a human being. We laughed. She cajoled. She offered positive feedback. She explained the things she was doing with great clarity and simplicity. When she told me that I needed a shingles vaccine, she said, “I know you don’t do well with needles, but you’d do a lot worse with shingles.”

Perfect. Acknowledge the fear. Explain the importance of facing it.

When I told her that my thigh was still numb almost five months after my surgery, she explained why. My surgeon and the doctors who conducted my post-op appointments explained that the numbness may be the result of the positioning of my leg during surgery, but I never understood what this meant.

Positioning of my leg? How can that make a leg go numb for months?

She explained – without me having to ask – that the position of my leg or back probably reduced or cut off the flow of blood to a nerve or nerves, creating the problem, but that it typically takes care of itself over time. She told me that my exercise regime, finally renewed following surgery, would likely help, too. “Increased blood flow to that region with every pedal of your bike.”

No one had ever explained it like this before. No one ever mentioned blood flow to a nerve. Finally, it made some sense.

Most importantly, I didn’t feel rushed in any way. She made eye contact with me, not once speaking to me while staring at her computer screen or clipboard. When I listed my concerns, which included:

  • Should I get another COVID-19 booster?
  • Can I over-boost myself?
  • What about the leg that I still can’t feel?
  • How do my ears look?
  • Am I due for another pneumonia vaccine?
  • Will I really need it again?

… she followed up every answer with, “What else?” She made it clear that she wanted to hear all of my concerns and was willing to give me the time needed to explain each one.

For more than 20 years, I had an excellent primary care physician who I adored. She knew me well. When Elysha and I first started dating and discovered that she shared the same doctor, it was surprising, but it also felt like it was meant to be. Our doctor even attended our Speak Up events from time to time.

I’ve also seen many other doctors over the years for specific needs and when my primary care physician was unavailable.

All took good care of me. Made me better.

Few have communicated as effectively as my new doctor did during my physical.

We want our doctors to be knowledgeable and skilled. We rely on their expertise and wisdom. We want them to be well-trained and thoughtful.

But we also want to feel special in their presence. In that examination room, we want to feel like we are the only thing that matters. We want to connect with them in a meaningful way and feel safe in their hands. We want to feel important and heard. We want the stress and anxiety of the doctor’s office to be mitigated by a person who knows how to explain, converse, encourage, and even laugh.

My new doctor accomplished all of those things last week. I left that physical feeling like my doctor knew me. Believed in me. Wanted me to be well.

As a person who spends so much of his time teaching communication strategies to professionals, professors, performers, attorneys, the clergy, and doctors, it is uncommon to find someone willing to be so authentic and effective in a professional setting. I spend a great deal of time trying to get people to understand the importance of asking questions, sharing a bit of yourself, listening effectively, being present, leaning into humor whenever possible, telling stories, and making these professional encounters a little less formal.

No one enters a doctor’s office hoping for stoicism and solemnity. We don’t want our doctors to simply complete their assigned tasks and move on to the next patient. We’re never hoping that our medical professional is methodical, business-like, and nothing more. We want our doctors to be experts in their particular field who also take the time to establish an authentic relationship with us. We want to believe that if our doctor was seated to our left at a dinner party, we would probably have a great time.

I felt exactly that way when I left the office. I felt like I had a very knowledgeable and supportive friend looking after my health.

I feel very lucky.

My arm is also still sore, almost a week after the shingles shot. It was no joke.