please don’t apologize…
I was reminded recently that I am ‘no longer a spring chicken’ (a sentiment my 12 year old daughter might concur with), this compliments of a local Orthopedist who examined two torn disks in my forever ailing back, some 15+ years post injury. The visit was relatively routine in comparison to the previous 14 annual checks I’ve had on what people in the know consider ‘a serious injury’, and per the usual outcome, the doctor informed me of the inherent risks and the need for eventual surgical intervention. I just smiled and explained, perhaps with a touch of an apologetic tone, that I’ve made it this far with a perpetually sore spine and have come to understand my physical limitations, some through education and some through those painful moments of ‘that was a bad idea”. So with continued exercise and core strengthening, I’ll pass on the knife for now. Surgery or not, it was the doctor’s comments afterwards that got me thinking – for quite a while actually – about a patient I’ve been struggling with. The doctor told me that although he disagrees with my decision to avoid surgery, he doesn’t expect me “to apologize for who you are”. This got me thinking.
Scary, I know.
Have you ever had a patient that apologizes profusely? I’m sorry I couldn’t perform well on that activity. I’m sorry my eyes aren’t working today. I’m sorry I had a bad day. I’m sorry I’m having difficulty with this today. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Apologizing in this way seems to be a way of expressing remorse for some kind of perceived inadequacy – visual, or otherwise. It also raises a red flag in the VT room, at least for me, because as much as I try to be non-judgmental in my everyday life, I work exceptionally hard at it in the VT room. In short, my opinion shouldn’t matter. So why is this patient apologizing?
One patient in particular that this thought moved me to is an adult I’ve been working with for quite some time. To put it mildly, he is challenged. He has an extensive medical history reaching far beyond the visual skills we work so diligently to improve. He was considered developmentally delayed most of his entire childhood and as an adult, his challenges continue. One characteristic that really makes this patient unique is his need for apology. Not from me, but from him. He apologizes for himself constantly.
Part of my job is acceptance. Accepting and identifying what a patient is, and is not, capable of and working to help them improve. The best Vision Therapists I’ve ever met are those who are able to see the person both for what they can do, as well as for what they cannot. We are not put upon for things that do not work. In fact, the best Vision Therapists look at an unsuccessful activity as an opportunity to modify things to make a patient successful. In fact, many Vision Therapists live feverishly by one of Henry David Thoreau’s credos:
The flexibility of your adaptability is a measure of your intelligence…
Why is this important?
We understand that we will need to be flexible. We understand that we will need to adapt. We understand quite clearly that our patients need our help. We understand that not everything will be easy. We understand that learning is not a continuous forward motion, and everyone is entitled to bad days. We understand that every activity we choose will not be 100% successful. We understand that we will need to make adjustments. Finally, we understand one undeniable and universal truth about our patients’ struggles. There are no apologies necessary.