How Do You Talk With Your Patients About COVID?

By John Hanks, DC

Talking to my patients about COVID-19 is like being a politician trying not to answer a direct question. Do you give the politically safe answer; something like, "Well, we're all doing the best we can"? Do you say, "We're all in this together"?

Data about the "jab" is evolving and changing daily. By the time this article is published, I would guess at least 50 percent of the information on COVID-19 will be wrong. I just don't know which 50 percent. What's a doctor to do?

Religion, Politics ... COVID?

Early in my chiropractic career, my mentors told me to be careful about talking with patients about religion or politics. But nobody warned me about confab concerning a futuristic pandemic!

When the COVID-19 virus showed up and locked us down, I was as stunned as anyone. I spent that time sitting in my office, with my feet up on my desk, reading fiction books. When patients started coming back in for treatment, sometime in the spring of 2020, I learned almost everyone had become an "expert" on COVID-19.

patient consultation - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Granted, the coronavirus science and information have evolved exponentially, and the debate has opened up. But we chiropractors are still challenged to address the questions from our patients. The following are a few examples of personality types I have encountered.

Patient Conversations

I treat one patient, a true hypochondriac – and a nurse, to boot – who works on an in-patient psych ward. One young woman on the ward tested positive for the virus and my patient panicked. She told me she started wearing three layers of surgical masks on top of her N-95 mask, and put on gloves, a gown, etc.

I thought, That should do it, but then she showed me the bruise on her elbow where she pushes the elevator button so she doesn't have to touch it with her gloved fingers. She tested negative twice, but she was convinced she got COVID anyway and quarantined herself for 10 days. The last time I talked to her, she was scheduling a colonic irrigation (perhaps hoping it might wash the virus out of her).

I assume most of us who treat patients are seeing many of those who are still scared to death of COVID. One morning, a young mother came wheeling in her 8-month-old son with her, donned in a huge mask. My first reaction was to laugh, but then I just felt a deep sorrow for this infant. The mother had to get up twice during our treatment session just to rearrange the mask on her crying, smothered baby.

Fear, abject fear, has ruled. I know several retired people who have barely left their homes in two years. One old bachelor, "Buddy" Kopopsky, (my name for him) only came in for treatment because he could barely stand up. He had been growing a "COVID beard": a gray, gnarly-looking rag that would have shamed even a hermit.

"I'm afraid to go anywhere Doc", he confessed. "If I get sick and die, who's gonna take care of my cat Felix?" Another guy surprised me by admitting he was spending about $100 a week on rapid antigen tests. He was testing himself four times a week, obsessed with knowing if COVID had gotten him yet. That's when I began to understand I could not tell which of my patients might be the most frightened.

Then there is the "I know all about it" type. They know the latest CDC case statistics, hospitalization rates, and all about what Dr. Fauci has ever said. They don't trust anything on the internet that is "misinformation."

Don't try to educate these people about what they don't know.  I made the mistake of explaining the problems of reliability with the COVID tests to a patient lecturing me about how important testing was in ending the pandemic.  The patient was sure I was incorrect. But as it turned out, it didn't matter, since I have never seen him again.

Discussing Vaccination

Fear works both ways. Several of my patients are more afraid of the vaccine than COVID-19. They seem to fall into two categories: one group simply distrusts the safety of the mRNA jabs, and they have read compelling arguments, from very smart scientists, that support their suspicions. (That's the group I'm in.) The second group might believe these new vaccines are bioweapons designed to kill and thin out the world's population or sterilize most of humanity in an effort to save Mother Earth and fight climate change, etc.

In either case, being drawn in to a conversation with these folks will guarantee you will be late treating your next patient.  I recommend you ask them to just text you a link to their favorite website on the subject.

What do you say when the patient asks if you are vaccinated? That's easy if you are, but not so easy for those of us who are not. One colleague answers that question by saying, "The office policy follows the HIPAA law that individual health information cannot be divulged to others, even that of the health care staff."  I hope that works for him. But for the rest of us ... how do you handle questions about your COVID status?

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