A heartfelt apology to my patient

I am writing this to say sorry to you. I’m sorry for a lot of things and through this I hope you understand more about what you need to be expecting from your health professionals and your health system. I am sorry for all of the bad experiences you have had. I’m sorry for all of the people like me that haven’t done the absolute best they could to help you. I want to apologise for them, because if I don’t you’re going to continue to think a certain way about us. When you come to us, you expect a certain level of service, and over time this level of service has probably not met your expectation – or if it has, you may be unaware of some things that could be better, things could be different for you. I promise that some of us are different, some of us think differently, we act differently and the health professionals like me want what is best for you and will do everything we can do to truly help you. I promise that you should be expecting more, you shouldn’t be settling for what you have had in the past.

Before I do that, I want to explain to you why it is difficult for health professionals to give you the experience you deserve. I want to explain why it is hard to manage people in pain and why it is hard to ensure you have a lasting resolution of your pain. You see, when you come to us in pain, you may also be troubled by other things. It isn’t obvious to you, but it is something we know also contributes to your pain and sometimes can be one of the main drivers for it. These other things make treating you more complex, and unfortunately we can alert you to these other things, but we can’t actually do very much about these things. These are things like if you’re having a stressful time at work or you may have had family issues for a while. We can’t change your boss, your colleagues or your family; we know they impact on your pain but we can’t change them. We can, however, let you know about the impact this has. In fact, there is a lot we can teach you and that is where I will, once again, apologise for those who haven’t taught you more. Because although there are some things that make your pain worse, which we can’t change, there are so many more things that we can change. This starts by simply telling you about these things, and I’m sorry for all of those health professionals that haven’t done this. When you come to us in pain, we know the best things you can do is not be afraid of that pain and to understand that you are not fragile or broken. I am so sorry for those people who made you think you were. If you knew more about how wonderfully fascinating your body and brain are, when they work together to form the feelings you associate with your pain, you would be as interested in it as we are! You wouldn’t be afraid of it, you would marvel at the amazing complexity, but awesome simplicity with which you are able to protect yourself. If only you knew more about the things that make your body and brain become overly protective and the things that make you think you are capable of less than you actually are. If only you were taught about these things by all those previous health professionals, instead of those people letting you continue to believe that you are less than what you actually are. I am sorry that you were lead to believe that you are less than capable, I am sorry that you think you are fragile, I am sorry that you have had to deal with health professionals that have never told you otherwise. Because the truth is, you are more durable than you know and capable of so much more than you think.

So it might be difficult to treat you when you come to us in pain, but it isn’t difficult to teach you some simple things that will always help. It is easy to tell you to stay positive about the outcome of your pain, because most things – and I mean most things – do get better whether you come to see us or not. It is easy to tell you to keep moving and to not be afraid of causing more damage, because these things help the most. These things are easy and I’m sorry for those people who don’t make you remember these things above anything else. I’m sorry that you end up confused and think your problem is more complicated than it needs to be. It really can be different, and we are working on it; but we need to be better for you and make you believe in yourself, your health and a better future.

For all of the thoughts, feelings, stories and yarns that you feel and have told yourself about fear and fragility; I’m sorry. Because I know that people like me probably caused a lot of that, and you trusted us to make you better, not worse. I am sorry that we are failing you when your only expectation of us is to help you. We are doing our best to change things, but it is still not enough; we need to be better for you and give you the experience you deserve, not a dim version of the one you’ve come to expect.

I will say, though, when you come to us in pain, sometimes you want to get better so much that you place all of your hard work on our shoulders. I’m sorry about this, because sometimes we are not brave enough to admit how little input we actually had into making your pain better. We largely do very little, and that’s the truth. I’m sorry as well, for all of those practitioners, who let you think it was only them that made your pain better. I’m extra sorry for those practitioners who preyed on you and ensured you returned to them week after week, year after year, whilst never actually giving you any way of helping yourself. I’m sorry that you’ve never been given the skills to help yourself and manage your pain like any other normal thing you have in your life – like getting old or changing jobs. You’re probably pretty well equipped to deal with these things, but somehow you’ve never been shown how to deal with pain in your life – well it’s pretty normal too and I’m sorry that you think we have all the answers. We need to do better, and believe me we are trying, to ensure you know the answers just as well as we do.

Most of us are trying harder than ever to find the answers and tell you, but some of us aren’t. For those professionals that you have seen that don’t pay attention to the up to date information, I am not only sorry, I am angry. And you should be too. We live in a more connected world than ever, with more information available at our fingertips than the entire history of humankind. For those people that don’t pay attention to this information in order to give it to you, there is no excuse for this. If you have come across professionals who do have their head in the sand; they were lazy and it hurt you in the process. You should expect better from us and don’t settle until you find it.

I’m sorry for all of those practitioners who made you think they had the answer, or a quick fix to your pain. I’m sorry for all of those practitioners who told you, ‘I definitely know what’s wrong with you.’ It hasn’t helped you and it’s just made you lose confidence and trust in us. The truth is, there is no miracle cure and sometimes we have to accept that we don’t know the exact cause of your pain. I’m sorry if you still believe there is a quick fix and that you just still haven’t found that one person that can find out the one thing that is wrong. It is understandable that you think that when you come to people like me, because you see it everywhere you go. I will say, it is difficult to do our best in a health system like this, where you see promotions for ‘pills’, ‘fads’ or ‘the latest gadget’ on everything from the TV, internet and social media. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is, in fact, the best way to go – a nice quick, simple fix. But once again I need to apologise for those people, those companies and those platforms that make you believe this. It isn’t easy to get to a good place with pain, it takes a lot of hard work and time, but because of all of those things this is time you don’t want to spend. It’s not your fault, it’s ours; we need to do better for you. We need to tell you the truth about your pain and what you need to do to improve, for that I am sorry. For you to trust us again, you need honest health professionals and an honest health system, so let me start that off by apologising to you.

Take this as a heartfelt apology about not doing the best we can for you. We will encourage those that aren’t trying to be better for you, we will continue to search for the answers and be honest with you when we don’t know them. Please understand that we are trying and if you have been treated by someone who isn’t trying, then uknow that we’re not all like that – in fact most of us aren’t like that. If you are still being treated by someone who isn’t trying, then go find someone who is; you’ll be better for it and you can thank me later.

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