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Patients are human beings who have problems when they see their physicians. They want to feel better after their visit, if not physically then at least emotionally. Illness -- even if not severe or life-threatening -- brings anxiety, and the provider of health-care services who listens can make a big difference in his or her patient's life. That lesson was brought home to me when I recently had to change doctors.

With leaden feet I entered my new doctor's office. My last physician, who had taken good care of me for 33 years, had recently retired from practice. After a few minutes, which seemed like hours, the office clerk called out my first name. I longed for the wonderful receptionist, Sue, in my old doctor's office, who had always treated me with such friendly deference.

With pounding heart, I was ushered into a small office where a youngish man with a bearded face stretched his hand out to welcome me. He had received the sheafs of paper his office had sent me to fill out and now wanted to know more about my ailments.

He also wanted the names of my medications along with their dosages. I thought to myself: What am I, a pharmacist or a chemist that I should pay attention to such things? I never even looked at dosages and totally trusted my caregivers.

The new doctor seemed to shake his head when I fumbled for words. I babbled off the names of my two medications, but that was all I knew about them. I suddenly felt very small and very ignorant. It's a wonder I didn't forget my name, I felt so anxious and befuddled. I wondered if I was still the same person who has written seven books, holds lectures, interviews clients and has three college degrees. Somehow this very well-meaning man made me fell grossly incompetent. I suddenly thought of myself as the village idiot.

My new doctor certainly was friendly in a paternalistic way. He assured me that I would no longer need to see my specialists, that he could handle all of that without their assistance. My throat felt parched and I wanted to tell him that I trust these specialists and that I already had appointments with them, but it was no use. He was adamant.

He sent me away with several large boxes of medications that he just knew would help me in every way possible. He didn't seem to hear me when I told him that I am not a medicine-taker except for essential ills. I rarely have taken any painkillers in my life and hoped not to inundate myself with them at this stage of my existence.

As I was driving home, I confronted myself with the thought that I might be able to convince my doctor that the HMO would not terminate him as a provider if he did give in to my wishes to let me continue seeing some of the doctors who had looked at my special problems.

I also remembered that I am as much of a stranger to him as he is to me. Hopefully, in the future, he will listen to me occasionally without making me think that I'm just another number in his busy day.

URSULA A. FALK is a psychotherapist in private practice. She is the author of seven books and numerous journal articles.
For writer guidelines for columns appearing in this space, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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