Come on back with me, into the exam room. Come on; it's okay. You can take a seat on the tall table lined in fresh, white paper, or just use the chair. You're in control.
Now, while you get comfortable, I'm just going to have a seat on this green, vinyl stool, pull out my pen and notepad, and then we can get started.
Oh, and this time, I'm going to show you my notes.
Now why would I do that? Why would I share those scribblings?
Because (1) I am only in the first year of medical school, so my handwriting is not quite as illegible as a real physician's, and (2) because, before starting medical school, I was you. Sitting against the white wall, legs dangling over closed drawers, I was you, wondering what my doctor was writing.
Though as a first year dental student, I do not have much to offer in the way of diagnosis, I can offer insight: the way a doctor thinks, the way a doctor organizes her notes has little to do with biology and physics. Rather, at least in my notepad, the notes are all about the people sitting before me. The format of my notepad is all about capturing the whole of this amazing person on the exam table in a balanced lens, because only through this holistic lens can I begin to appropriately assess the situation.
Perhaps you're wondering how this relates to you, and trust me, it has everything to do with you! This way of thinking, this medical organization of notes, is perfect for you and for me, its applicability reaching far beyond hospital walls.
Consider an obstacle you are facing -- a difficult choice, a major life change. Or, look further inside yourself, and tell me what you are feeling, good or bad. Don't worry; you're not alone. As I write, I'm joining in this exercise with you:
This week, we had a huge exam. So, if I had to identify one predominant emotion I was feeling, I would scream, "anxiety." Okay, your turn. Name your challenge or emotion and write it down. We'll call this our chief focus.
Step one is complete! Easy enough, right? But, sometimes, just naming an emotion or a challenge isn't enough. Sometimes, when I have a strong emotion or challenge, just like when I go to a doctor, I want to make things feel better.
So, this week, instead of just naming my anxiety, I took it to the doctor. I put it up on the exam table -- paper robe and all -- and tried to understand it. And, I began with an open question: tell me your story. Tell me when this emotion began, what brought it on, what makes it feel better or worse. Describe for me the quality of this emotion and rank it on a scale of 1 to 10. Show me how it impacts your day and tell me what you think is causing it to be so powerful and enduring. We'll call this the history of our chief focus.
But with that most in-depth part of our note-taking complete, I still only understand one piece of the scenario: the present. And that means nothing without the context of your past. So now, let me into your past. What major emotions or challenges have you faced? In a few words, how did you handle those scenarios?
Great! Our past significant history is complete!
Now, I promise, we're almost done! Just two more parts!
To start, lend me a bit of your social history. What tools do you have in your arsenal for maintaining day-to-day wellness -- exercise, faith, work or friends? Are there any unhealthy coping habits getting in your way? And, on a scale of 1 to 10, how safe do you feel (use this as your barometer for when to call for professional assistance).
Fantastic! The social history is done and finished. So, for the final question, take a body scan, a review of symptoms. Move from head to toe and tell me where and how you feel. Does your anxiety make your stomach turn? Perhaps your tough decision makes your head hurt? Put it down in words.
So, with all this done, you may have two reactions: (1) Why did I spend so much time on this and (2) What now?
Well, for the first question: just like a doctor learning to take a medical history, this process will get faster. And even if it doesn't, let me share with you a beautiful gift my patients taught me: time is healing. The time I give to a patient to hear his story and understand his position means so much, if only to offer the patient an opportunity to be heard and cared for. So, in this exercise, give yourself that same gift of time. Listen to your emotion or challenge and care for it by giving it the space to speak.
If that's not enough, if you are in the camp of asking, "What now," I'm going to leave you with the final step of a doctor's notes: the primary focus list. You've fleshed out the scenario from all perspectives. You've figured out what you are feeling or what challenge you're facing, how you've coped in the past, and who you have on your team, and you are ready for a solution. So, if one global solution doesn't come to you by some mystical means -- it rarely does -- read back through your notes, highlight the parts of those notes that you want to change, and take them on one piece at a time. Now that you have a holistic view of your situation, you -- in union with your supports -- have all the strength you will need to move forward.
The doctor said she would live in a nursing home, confined to a wheelchair, crippled by pain; that was thirteen years ago. Instead, Mirissa D. Price is a 2019 DMD candidate at Harvard School of Dental Medicine, spreading pain-free smiles, writing through her nights, and, once again, walking through her days.