Awaiting Test Results
Here is something we can all identify with and agree upon: it is torture waiting for test results. The anxiety associated with testing is enormous and often begins days before the scheduled scan, x-ray, mammogram, or MRI. This is frequently a topic of conversation in my office, and no one really has any good answers about how to avoid the trauma. There are strategies that can help:
- Consider taking someone with you to the appointment. Even if (as is likely) she is not allowed into the room itself during a scan, the company is a soothing distraction. It is sometimes possible to have your friend right there with you--ask. I have known people, very worried about MRIs, who arranged for the friend to stand at the end of the tube and stroke their feet throughout the process.
- If the scan does not include drinking vast quantities of something that is likely going to make you feel sick later, consider planning a treat immediately thereafter. Knowing that an ice cream cone or a large iced coffee or a glass of wine awaits you may help a bit.
- Do anything you can to make the process more comfortable. This may mean taking an ativan, as long as you are not driving, or listening to music or taking along a talisman.
- And here is the really important one: Plan ahead of time how you are going to hear the results. This means talking with your doctor and being very clear about your needs. You do not want to be in a situation where you are jumping every time the phone rings and unsure what the meaning is of no phone call. It usually takes a day or two for the results to be ready, but you can ask that you be called right away with any information (understanding that this may mean hearing bad news over the phone) or that you not be called and plan to discuss the results at your next (hopefully soon) appointment. A hint: unless you are quite good at putting anxiety aside and going ahead with your days, waiting for an appointment may only prolong the agony and tension and worry.
- Many hospitals, including BIDMC, have an online site called something like "Patient Site". An individual can log on and read test results from home. Doctors have to approve what is posted there, and there is great variability among what can be seen. Many cancer doctors worry about this as they don't want a patient to possibly read bad or confusing results without a chance to immediately ask questions. If your hospital has such a system, ask your doctor in advance whether the results will be posted there. And then think carefully about whether you want to read them.
This is a great article (and note that the writer is talking about non-cancer tests, presumably a lower level anxiety) from the New York Times about this situation. Per usual, here is the beginning and a link:
The Anxiety of Waiting for Test Results
By JAN HOFFMAN
After MaryAnn and Drew Szilagyi, a Houston couple in their early 30s, saw their physician for routine physicals a few years ago, they didn't have to wait for his call about the blood work. Just two days later, Mr. Szilagyi, a banker, logged onto a Web site, perused his lab results and sighed with relief. All normal.
But when Mrs. Szilagyi, who sells luxury kitchen equipment, followed suit, no results were displayed. Instead, a message flashed: Contact Doctor's Office. Her internal alarms began clanging. That day she left four messages for her doctor. No response. The next day, Mrs. Szilagyi, who has a family history of breast cancer, pleaded with the receptionist for help. She pulled Mrs.Szilagyi's chart and said, "I can't tell you what it says, but I don't think you should worry."
Now angry as well as frightened, Mrs. Szilagyi continued to worry. On the third day, the doctor's nurse reached her. What result had caused so much mystery and misery?
Mrs. Szilagyi, it turned out, had a vitamin D deficiency.