You only get one chance to make a first impression.
This is such a true statement. During the first weeks of a cancer diagnosis and treatment, first impressions are frequent. You meet so many people and see so many different aspects of the clinic or hospital. A first impression can be with a person or with the facility. Some interactions go without notice. Some first impressions are memorable for negative reasons, while others are memorable for exceeding expectations. We’ve had a few of each.
During our visit at the first cancer center, my initial impression of the facility campus was frustrating. Surface parking shared between the cancer center and an orthopedic center equals not enough parking. I drove around each of three parking lots multiple times before finally deciding to park in a lot that wasn’t clearly marked as patient parking.
Since we are talking about parking – parking at the second cancer center has been both positive and negative. Negative because when is a parking ramp a positive experience? (I honestly believe parking ramps must have been designed before SUVs and oversized trucks were built – there is no way ramps were built to accommodate vehicles this large).
Overwhelmingly positive has been the ability to valet park for FREE during radiation treatment and FREE parking in the ramp on the chemotherapy day. Over the weeks of treatment, the valet staff recognized us and my car – and would meet us with the parking tag ready for us to take down to radiation for validation. During the last week of treatment, one of the valets acknowledged we were nearing the end. With all of the cars they manage on a daily basis — not just cancer patients but patients for all of the other outpatient clinics in that area of the facility — knowing that we were within days of ending treatment is impressive. On the last day of treatment, we returned to the car to find a note of congratulations and well-wishes on the dash.
A funny side story about valet parking – one day after completing a radiation treatment as well as an unexpected fluid infusion, we arrived at the valet parking area to find my car missing. On this particular day, I was driving my husband’s Equinox rather than my Beetle, in other words, a car that blends in with others in the area. I told the valet my car was not there. He looked around, asked me if that silver one was mine (wrong color), and checked the key board. The keys were not there. I could see the beginning signs of concern in his eyes, but I wasn’t too concerned. Mom, my sister and I went into the clinic lobby to wait while he searched for the Equinox. After a few minutes, he came in, telling me he had good and bad news. The good news – they found my car. Bad news – the valet driver who had just returned from parking it in the ramp needed to go back and get it. Both valet staff were overly apologetic about this little mishap.
A Welcoming Face
After parking, the next opportunity for a first impression any clinic or hospital has is the registration or check-in desk. Since the first cancer center was a building of its own, we were greeted first by a concierge-type desk staffed with an employee and volunteers. As you would expect, they were welcoming and knowledgeable about where we needed to be for the upcoming appointments. Subsequently, the staff who checked us in at both the oncology and radiation oncology clinics were kind and welcoming – I would put this first impression as one that goes without notice.
Moving to the second cancer center – where we spent many weeks – the first impression in radiation oncology was welcoming and friendly. We were always greeted with a smile and often the staff had Mom checked in before we were in front of the desk.
The first impression at the medical oncology clinic was also positive, but there was one aspect of it that I would categorize as bothersome. There are four registration stations at the desk as you enter the clinic, divided by privacy panels – similar to what you see in banks between tellers. The very first registration station is open to the entrance of the clinic on the one side and had dual monitors elevated to standing height for the staff working that station. These are placed straight in front of the staff – and make talking to the staff awkward. We had to stand to the side and peer around the side to make eye contact with the staff. (Later in the day I overheard a conversation referencing a medical need for the standing work station.) While I commend the clinic for making accommodation for their staff’s medical needs, the standing work station created an uncomfortable interaction for me. Each week when we’d check in, I hoped for one of the other stations so the conversation could be more comfortable.
When you first enter the cancer center area of this facility, there is a small desk that is in the small lobby. Sometimes there is a volunteer at that desk, sometimes there isn’t. Consistently staffing this desk could help patients and families find their way, ask for assistance with a wheelchair or transportation to a clinic (on more than one occasion I brought Mom into the clinic via a wheelchair and left her sitting there while I parked the car or finalized the valet parking). It would have been nice to have a staff there to help get her to the appropriate clinic.
First Impression is the Last Impression
Ultimately the people who we encountered first were the ones who were the most frequently seen during the course of treatment. They are the people we saw day in and day out or spoke to on the phone. They laid the foundation of the relationships built with each individual clinic. They were the staff who had a smile or a funny comment to make Mom smile on the days she wasn’t feeling good. They were the ones who knew me and understood that I was not only an advocate for Mom but more importantly, I was her daughter.
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