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Patient ‘Splaining and How to Make It Effective

Patient ‘splaining. We all do it. Heck, it’s part of the job description of a chronically ill person. When the doctor asks how I’ve been doing, I always answer with a monologue. Sometimes I so carefully construct this speech that I’m convinced I could win an Obie Award without stepping foot in New York. Or if not that, at least move my neurologist to applaud at the end. Alas no.

A neurologist that listens

I’m lucky to have a neurologist that listens. I think my primary care doc listens to about 70% of my blather. I’ve revised it several times to get her to listen more. A writer’s work is never done. Same goes for a performer. No matter what you are, there’s one important thing to remember. Consider your audience.

Grabbing your doctor’s attention

Even a scientist needs you to cut to the chase. You’re the 15th patient she’s had to listen to that day and unless you are her first appointment in the morning, she’s only going to appear to be listening. Count on it. With that in mind, here are some attention-grabbers that will capture them from the get-go:

  • Make ‘em laugh. Nothing fancy. Your favorite meme, for example. Mine is by Lawrence Welk. There are good days and bad days, and this is one of them. Guaranteed they’ll make eye contact with you at the very least. If you can establish eye contact you’re halfway there.
  • There’s been a changeNow, how could a doc ignore that opener? Unless they’re psychopaths they’ve got to say something like: Oh yes? Tell me what’s going on.
  • Bring notes. But don’t let the doc see them. They’ll be relieved to see that you’re organized. But if they see a lot of writing that fills a page, they’ll tune you out before you open your mouth. The palm of your hand is nature’s iPad. Use it.

*Some other hacks that will better prepare you for an appointment that your doc will love:

Reminders for an efficient appointment

  • Remember to check your med refills before your appointment. How many times have you gotten to the end of an appointment and then been asked so do you need any prescription renewals today? Being prepared might save you an additional phone call.
  • Bring your most up-to-date medications list. I keep one on my computer and bring it up the day before my doc appointments. I scan it for accuracy and change the date in the heading to the appointment date (for the doc’s records) before saving the changes to a file name that reflects the date (for my records). That way, the next time I need to hunt for that list, I open the latest version.

So back to other forms of patient ‘splaining. If it’s not your doc then it’s going to be a family member, friend, or coworker asking how you are. This can be very different.

Crafting and controlling your story

Even if I’m talking to my closest confidant (my sister), I’m careful in crafting a response. Pretty much the same things apply as when I’m talking to my doc, only I can get more personal with my sister, naturally. But ‘splaining is performance art no matter who is the audience. In a way, you are a walking, talking journal in that you are in control of your story. But telling your story serves a slightly different function. A personal journal can include things for your eyes only and doesn’t have to follow any form. A monologue is a different version of your story. As a matter of fact, it can be a pack of lies if you wish it to be. There are no rules for your performance monologue. It serves you in the moment.

That is one surefire way to feel your power. To be in charge of yourself, your life, your story.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Senator
    2 years ago

    I know I am lucky to have a PC & MS Neuro Drs who listen to me. The way I could tell was I used to ask a question, during a monologue of what has been happening since our last visit. They would stop writing or typing and look at me to answer. I say used to because I have been going to both long enough to not have to do it anymore. Try to make my questions as concise as possible, and answers as informative as possible without putting them into space. Bring notes and take them is always good.

  • rayche
    2 years ago

    Oh!Its been too long since I visited the site and read Kim Dolce!and the comments too! Yes,laughter heals.However,I’ve been in the habit of laughing and looking fairly healthy when I see consultants,practitioners etc and I’m fed up with nothing being done as a result.I am convinced that these days one needs to put on a good stress show at least (and sometimes it ain’t a show) This is UK NHS by the way. In a scary state. Better stop ranting. My favourite occupation.Thankyooooo.

  • Julie
    2 years ago

    My neuro;’s nurse takes down all the info for the doc before he comes in. I know there are lots of questions they need to ask but they are boring and repetitive. The one I like is if I’m thinking about hurting myself or anyone else. I once said “only my ex”. She looked at me so alarmed I had to laugh and told her I’m kidding. No one has a sense of humor anymore. But I have no idea what she might have written on the computer.

    I keep my list drugs on my phone. Every time I go somewhere it seems like I have to tell someone what drugs I take. It’s very handy and my phone is always with me. I try to keep things like that easy on me. I know 75% of what I say goes thru my doctor’s ear and out the other. He seems to catch the important stuff so I guess I’ll keep him.

  • omgck
    2 years ago

    Oh thanks so much for writing Kim!! I always do enjoy your posts, this one is just too hilarious for words. I will be trying out your 3 “attention grabbers” on my next neurology visit!

    About crafting and controlling your story….This is so important I agree, especially when dealing with those who just never seem to (or want to) understand what it is like to live with so much uncertainty from day to day.

    Laughter is the best:):):)

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