Friday, January 15, 2016

Being called into the chemotherapy treatment suite

Naturally each step in the chemotherapy day may feature some waiting. I’ve already written about the Memorial Sloan-Kettering (MSK) waiting room, but the moment the waiting ends also is worth discussing.

When the time for your chemotherapy session arrives, the call doesn’t come over a loudspeaker. Instead, you hear a voice calling your name. You look up and see, typically, a young and friendly face scanning the room. You wave, this person comes over, and he or she escorts you and your companions to the chemotherapy suite. Usually the escort has a smile and some friendly chat to make the transition as pleasant as possible. I think it works well, and that, like many features of the treatment process, it reflects careful thought by the people at MSK about how to make the patient experience as supportive as possible.

But it does raise a couple of questions about privacy. Obviously, when your name is called in a roomful of people, everyone there hears it and can put your name and face together. For some people – celebrities of one sort or another – that might be a real breach of privacy. My guess is that there are special procedures that can be arranged so that people who are really objects of public fascination make their way to treatment unannounced.

Still, what about the rest of us? I think the answer is that our privacy is protected pretty well, by three things. First, we’re all pretty anonymous (the celebrities having been taken care of in some special way). Second, most of the people in the room are more concerned with their own or their loved ones’ situation than with who else might be in similar straits – so they’re more focused on waiting to hear their name than on who else might be getting called. Third, I think there is a fellowship of cancer patients. We share a misfortune, and the nature of the room means that we, inevitably, recognize each other as people with a major illness. That we share, but only with each other, and it would be a breach of that shared fellowship to tell people outside the room.

I imagine that MSK thought about all this too – and concluded that the modest risks to privacy were outweighed by the benefits of the personal touch and the smiling face that patients encounter when they hear their name called as they do now.

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