Medical visits and medical procedures cause all of us to be a little anxious, but for individuals with disabilities, medical visits and procedures can be extra difficult. For example, Allison, who is diagnosed with a developmental disability, lives independently in her own apartment, and has many friends throughout the city.
One day while at the Fidelity House office, someone noticed her fingers were swollen on one hand. Allison did not want to go to the doctor’s office to have the fingers checked but with some encouragement from a trusted friend they were able to make an appointment. Having a trusted person accompany her helped Allison feel more relaxed. She wanted to leave many times during the process but responded well to the calm atmosphere, words of encouragement, and the promise of coffee afterward. Giving Allison coping strategies before going into the doctor’s office helped her feel more in control. For example, she would put on her headphones and listen to her favorite music if she was feeling anxious. During waiting periods it was important to carry on a conversation to distract her, addressing her anxiety if she spoke about it and redirecting her attention to other topics of interest.
It turned out that Alison had broken her finger which was starting to heal improperly and would require surgery. Allison was not sure she wanted surgery repeating that her finger was fine. Her friend clearly explained the problem, reinforced the need for surgery, and accompanied her to the surgical center for the procedure. Even with some relaxation tools at her disposal, Allison found it hard to remain calm when asked to remove her clothes to put on a medical gown. Seeing the stress this was causing Allison, the nurse agreed that she could keep on most of her clothes put the gown on top. Having medical professionals that were willing to work with Allison and make the situation as comfortable for her as possible made all the difference in her experience. Allison’s friend was allowed to stay with her until the anesthesia put her to sleep, and was with her when she woke up after surgery. Allison was very proud of herself and her friend praised her often as they went to follow-up visits. There were several visits to Dunkin Donuts to celebrate!
Having a calm, trusted advocate accompany individuals with high anxiety about medical care can change the whole experience. This person can explain an individual’s needs and concerns as well as provide the encouragement and support needed to make the experience as positive and relaxed as possible.
Author: Elizabeth R. Steele RN BSN MS CDDN, VP of Health Services
Beth began working at Fidelity House Human Services in 1988 and has worked at Fidelity House in various capacities as the Health Care Coordinator, Associate Executive Director, and Director of Health Services. She enjoys working with people with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities and the people who care for them. Her favorite part of the job is empowering caregivers through education and support.