A Lesson In Poor Assumptions From A Clinical Nurse

When I was 5 or so, I contracted Chicken Pox. I barely remember the ordeal, but the one thing I do remember is that I did not enjoy one aspect of having to stay home, put this weird ointment all over my body, and deal with insane itchiness without the ability to scratch.

23 years later, and I have the so-called recurrence of Chicken Pox – Shingles (or Herpes Zoster). Yeah, that’s right, I said Herpes. No, it’s not the kind of Herpes you are thinking of (the STD variety), but still just as upsetting.

Apparently, Shingles is caused by too much stress. I found this surprising as I do not feel as though I stress about anything, really. I tend to have a positive outlook on life, take things in stride, and generally don’t hold grudges or maintain negative thoughts about anything for extended periods of time.

That all said, I have another habit that does increase the stress levels of my body: my sleep patterns. I have been dealing with a personal battle to determine when my appropriate sleeping schedule should be. I’ll share it with you sometime, for now, the point is that apparently I stressed my body out, and now I have Shingles.

Seeing A Doctor For The First Time In 10 Years

I’m generally a very healthy person. I only catch a cold maybe once every other year. My body has been blessed with a strong immune system and I try very hard to support it through proper nutrition and exercise.

Admittedly, I’m not as good in these areas as I would like, but I maintain focus on them. Going to see a doctor just isn’t something I normally do. The last time I did see a doctor was because I was required to get a physical to be cleared to play sports.

Upon arriving at the clinic this morning, I was welcomed by an unattended, yet lavish reception desk. To the right was where the real reception occurred, little bays with workers’ heads barely above the countertops. As I approached the available staff person, she welcomed me with a warm smile and asked how she might help me.

“I have a rash on my chest, I’m not sure, but I think it may be Shingles,” I replied.
“Okay, have you ever been here before? Or have you ever seen a doctor in from our hospital network?” she asked.
“No. I actually haven’t been to see a doctor in 10 years.”
“Wow. Okay, no problem, just take this and fill it out, please. Thankfully, the on-call physician actually dabbles in dermatology, so that should work out well for you.”
“Thanks. Yeah that does sound fortuitous.”

There’s really nothing special in that dialogue other than the realization I had while in the middle of it. I hadn’t seen a doctor in a decade. Life has been pretty amazing, and I’ve always had my health. There’s something to be truly thankful and appreciative of every single day.

It also makes me realize that eating healthy, staying active, and just maintaining a positive attitude does really have a positive impact on my health, and with rising healthcare costs, my wallet.

A Lesson In Poor Assumptions From A Clinical Nurse

After all of my reception paperwork was processed, and I paid my copay for my doctor visit, I was provided some vague directions on where to go and where to wait to be called to see the doctor. After sitting in the waiting hallway for about 15 minutes trying to get 3G to cooperate so Wifey and I could watch an episode of Modern Family on our iPad, I was called back.

Our nurse was nice enough. I don’t remember her name. I’m not even sure if she gave it to us. She probably did, I just didn’t take the time to make sure I remembered it. I know, I know, how rude. As she to ask me some standard medical questions, I couldn’t help but notice that she was making several assumptions about my life and about me before she had even heard my answers.

“Okay, so you don’t have any history of blood disease or high blood pressure?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“And no one in your family has a history of blood disease, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disorders, cancer…” (she went through the whole list).
“That’s correct, as far as I know, I don’t.”
“Well, if you did have something like that in your medical history, you’d know about it.” (for those not paying close attention, this was her first poor assumption about me)

The conversation carried on for a few minutes, and she blurted out another poor assumption (I don’t remember the conversation well enough to know exactly what spurred the comment): “Well, we all eat so poorly and put so much crappy stuff in our bodies…” I lost track of what she was saying.

Now, don’t get me wrong, she was a nice lady, and no doubt she was just trying to make me comfortable and make small talk. By the way, therein lies one of the problems with small talk. Why can’t our conversations be more meaningful? Why is it that when we talk with someone we don’t know very well, we are supposed to avoid big topics like politics, religion, sex, etc.

Aren’t these things that everyone has an opinion on (usually)? It seems to me, that these are some of the most important topics to talk about as they have such a large impact on our daily lives, but I digress.

Why Assumptions Suck

You may have heard the expression, “don’t assume because when you do, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”. Cheesy? Sure, and perhaps not quite the best analogy, but it gets the point across. When we make an assumption about someone else, whether it is right or not, we are discrediting their ability to express themselves.

We are disrespecting them on an unconscious (or maybe conscious) level. Disrespect is a negative circumstance, it seldom yields a positive response, and seldom encourages a positive outcome.

When the nurse assumed that I would know if someone in my family had a medical condition worth knowing about, she failed to recognize that I don’t speak with my biological father. I haven’t spoken with him for over 4 years, and before that, I only spoke with him every 3-5 years for about 5 minutes on the phone. Medical histories didn’t really come up.

I have no idea, to this day, what medical conditions exist on his side of the family. As I’ve been overwhelmingly healthy, and will be for the foreseeable future, I don’t see the need. The nurse’s assumption regarding the matter, however, felt like a personal attack on my past. I know this wasn’t the case; I know she meant only positive by it, but that is the point I’m making regarding assumptions. We don’t really know anything about anyone until we point-blank ask them. Even then, we may not get a fully truthful answer.

The same applies for when she lumped my wife, son, and I into the same category as what she considers the normal person regarding their diet. This may be because of years of experience working with patients. It may be based on her own personal nutritional struggles, or people she is close to.

By lumping us into that same category, though, she insulted our ongoing efforts to remain healthy and clean. Again, I know that wasn’t her intent, most likely, but therein lies the lesson about poor assumptions.

Avoid Making Assumptions

We never really know anything about another person. Even when they tell us certain things, we only believe them based on faith and our perception of the other person. To not make assumptions about people feels inefficient. If we have to ask 300 questions just to make sure we know the truth about someone’s circumstance, that would get pretty drab.

The solution lies in making assumptions that don’t have the chance to offend. Assume positive things about people if you must assume anything at all. Otherwise, assume you have no clue. By assuming we have no clue what the reality is for the other person, we keep our minds open and aware of the fact that they may eventually reveal their true nature to us naturally in time.

If they don’t, and it’s pertinent, we should ask them point blank. The worst case scenario that will result from asking someone a personal or what may seem like an obvious question is we don’t get an answer, or we get a blank stare.

Either way, it won’t be the end of the world because we opted to ask a question with an open mind to the response rather than assuming just to assume.