Waiting for Medical Test Results Shouldn't Be This Difficult

Roz Warren

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I had the MRI on Monday.

“When will the results be available?” I asked the technician.

“Your doctor will have them tomorrow,” she said.

I phoned my doctor’s office on Tuesday. “I’d like my test results,” I told the receptionist.

“I’ll transfer you to the test results line,” she said.

The test results line was a recorded message which told me to leave my name and phone number. Somebody would get back to me with my test results within 24 hours.

Nobody did.

I spent those 24 hours feeling very anxious. My mother had been diagnosed with cancer at the same age I was now. I braced myself every time the phone rang. As the day wore on and I didn’t get the call, I became convinced that the news must be bad. My doctor wanted to put off telling me — and who could blame him?

I had trouble sleeping that night.

On Wednesday morning I phoned my doctor’s office “I had a MRI two days ago,” I said. “I’d like my test results.”

“I’ll transfer you to the test results line,” she said.

“No! Please! I left my name and phone number yesterday and nobody got back to me.”

“Oh dear,” she said. “Well. The doctor is in the office this morning. I’ll see if I can get him to phone you.“

I spent the rest of the morning anxiously awaiting the doctor’s phone call. At one, I phoned again. “I had an MRI on Monday,” I said. “I’m trying to get my test results. I’ve phoned several times.”

“I’ll transfer you to the test results line.”

“No! Please don’t! This is the third time I’ve called. I’ve left my name and number. Nobody got back to me. I phoned this morning and they told me the doctor would phone me and he hasn’t. This is incredibly stressful. Can’t you just tell me?”

“The doctor’s policy is to phone patients himself with test results.”

“He hasn’t phoned me.”

“It’s busy here.”

“I’ve been waiting for two days,” I said, as calmly as I could. “You’ve had my results for 24 hours.”

“Let me just see if we actually have them,” she said, putting me on hold. I listened to most of “Dancing Queen” before she got back on. “We do have your results,” she said. “I’ve got them right here.”

“Can’t you just tell me?” I asked.

She repeated that the doctor’s policy was to deliver test results himself.

“It’s been two days,” I said. “I’m very anxious about this. My mother died of cancer.”

“I understand,” she said, “But –”

“Look, I just want to know if I have cancer. Won’t somebody please tell me? It shouldn’t be this difficult.”

Silence.

“Okay,“ she said after a moment, lowering her voice. “I‘m looking at your test results right now. They look fine to me. No sign of cancer.”

Relief washed over me. “Thank you,” I said. “That was very kind.“

“I’ve been there,” she said. “I know how it feels.”

“I appreciate it.”

“Just don’t tell anyone.”

My doctor finally phoned later that day. “Everything looks great,” he said.

I didn’t blow up at him for keeping me waiting, take him to task for his insensitivity or suggest that he change the way he communicates with his patients. Maybe because I knew how lucky I was, compared with the patients he'd be phoning whose results weren’t so great.

I just thanked him for the news, hung up the phone and decided to find another doctor.

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Roz Warren, the author of JUST ANOTHER DAY AT YOUR LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY, has appeared on both the Today Show and Morning Edition, writes for everyone from the Funny Times to the New York Times, and has been included in 13 Chicken Soup for the Soul collections. Drop her a line at roSwarren@gmail.com.

Bala Cynwyd, PA
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