10 Dec Slice of Life – Missing the Story
My doctor recently retired. He was amazing. You don’t realize what someone means to you until they are gone. I made an appointment to meet my new doctor. I wasn’t sick, but I wanted to get to know her and I wanted her to know me –before I become sick and need to see her.
The door opened. I looked up with a smile, ready to engage in a new relationship. She didn’t look up from her chart. She sat down in a chair in front of her computer. With her back to me she asked me to move off of the table and into the chair across from her. I have never done this before, but I jumped down, ever so carefully in my paper gown, made my way across the cold linoleum floor and into the chair.
I waited, still no eye contact. My face began to hurt so I stopped smiling. She then launched into a list of questions that she was reading off her computer. Do you exercise? Do you have healthy eating habits? Do you have children? Do you work outside the home? Do you feel depressed? Any change in weight? Any injuries? She asked if I was happy – it was just one of the questions on the list. I answered yes. She typed away at my answers, never looking up, never commenting, never further questioning, and never connecting with the person sitting across from her.
Her data tells her that I exercise, I work, I have a family and I have healthy eating habits. She told me that a healthy person of my age does not need to see her doctor every year. That is what the research shows. She followed up with telling me I would not need to see her again for two years unless there was a reason. She told me everything was good and it was nice to meet me.
Her data doesn’t tell her that my father died 6 months ago and I now care for my 71-year-old mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know I am terrified I will get Alzheimer’s and won’t know my own children in 20 years. She doesn’t know that I still feel my hip injury and decided to give up my number for the NY Marathon in fear of permanent damage. She doesn’t know that while I am happy I am also exhausted. Working full time, with two adolescent boys and an elderly mother to care for has me spent in every possible way. There are moments when I feel I have nothing left to give, but I am happy. She doesn’t know that I exercise so that I can breathe, slow down, and find peace. She doesn’t know that I am a teacher and that I love what I do with a complete passion. She doesn’t know that I wanted her to know me so that I could come to her if I needed her, if someday I am not happy, if someday I am worried about my health, if someday I have a question.
There is a medical truism that says, “Eighty percent of the time, a diagnosis can be made on a history – the diagnosis is often in the story.” Although in medicine the diagnosis is often in the story, it is the story that helps the physician know which tests to run. We would not want our doctors to rely solely on what they think the problem is, and we would not want to get a test result without talking to our doctor. We want both from our doctors – formal tests and conversation – to provide the full picture of what is happening for us.
I realize that this experience is not so different from what is happening in so many schools. The mandates around assessments are causing us to ask the questions and report the data, but they are also setting a trap for us to fall in — never really knowing the person behind the number. We can assess our students and still completely miss their story. Assessment, regardless of the profession, is about relationships. It is about creating a setting of trust, respect and care so one will share their story so we can more fully understand.