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An Open Note to Dentists and Physicians 
9th-Jun-2010 10:14 am
empty threats
I'd love to think that this would make a change for the better, but something tells me that any healthcare professional will immediately discount it because I'm but a lowly patient. Ah well, hope springs eternal.

Do not tell patients to 'relax'.

Don't ask patients to 'relax'.

Saying 'relax' to a client is unproductive.

'Relax' is a pointless directive when you're on the giving end of treatment.

(Shall I say it a few more ways or have you got it?)

Again, I'm guessing that the people this is relevant to have already skidaddled, but for those still around, here's my reasoning.

You're going to have two types of patients/clients in healthcare.
1. Those who are nervous, and
2. Those who are not.

There is a spectrum of nerves in category 1, but not in 2.

I fall into 2. I am not nervous of medical/dental procedures. I'm not scared of needles, scalpels, drills, scopes, or scanners. I can hold still for a very long time. I can put up with awkward positions.
I volunteered for a clinical experiment that required me to sit inside an MRI machine for 45 minutes (during which time the monitoring equipment malfunctioned and doubled the time forecast for incarceration).
I give blood.
When I had the two halves of my thyroidectomy, I was nervous that the pathology might come back showing that it was anaplastic, but I wasn't nervous about the anaesthesia, the surgery, the post-operative pain or the stitch removal.

Category 2- not nervous.
For those in that category, telling us to 'relax' is ridiculous. We're not unrelaxed to begin with. I honestly feel like telling people, 'I couldn't be more relaxed unless I removed my bones'. Yes, I can relax specific portions of me that include voluntary muscle movements ('Relax your jaw' is something I can do, for example).

Category 1- nervous.
But, they can't help it. Maybe they had a bad experience previously with a similar procedure. Maybe it's a phobia. It doesn't really matter. You can promise them no pain, no discomfort...hell, you can promise them the moon and stars, but until it's over, they will be nervous. Remember that you may not be able to keep those promises and they know that even if you don't. Telling them to 'relax' and expecting it will actually cause them to relax is like me standing in the street and saying 'Wheetabix' to the sky and expecting breakfast to fall into my hands.

Don't tell patients to 'relax'.

For group 1, it is a false hope and for group 2, it's superfluous and patronising. Hell, it's patronising either way. You're not the one on the receiving end of the treatment, regardless.

This rant brought to you by my dental appointment earlier wherein the dentist managed to get my neck into a position that cause my thyroidectomy scar to press against my trachea, reducing my air intake severely and then telling me to relax when I moved as I realised that air was no longer flowing into my lungs. That's not a situation I can relax out of. If I could relax beyond the need for air, I'd go diving without SCUBA gear.
9th-Jun-2010 09:47 am (UTC)
I am firmly in category 1.
Recently I had some dental treatment. While I was being drilled, I winced a bit and the dentist stopped and asked if that had hurt. I said I wasn't sure, possibly I was just nervous. The dentist replied that this was why it was important to be completely relaxed.
Fortunately he smiled when he said it.
15th-Jun-2010 04:19 pm (UTC)
That would take the sting out a bit. This dentist was more than a bit dour.
9th-Jun-2010 01:56 pm (UTC)
I'm on board with this PSA!
I had a massage therapist who constantly told me to "relax." It only made me MORE tense... and ruined whatever relaxation I COULD have gained from the massage. I mean, if I could just "relax," I'd have done it already, yeah?
15th-Jun-2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
Sheesh, that would ruin a massage.
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