Doctor Visits and Interviewing Subject Matter Experts

I’m not certain if I’m a bigger klutz than most people or just write about my various errors more often. Be that as it may, yes, I have another “Bart moment” (error) to share that can serve as an object lesson for the observant technical communicator. This week, I got to make a doctor’s appointment because I did something slightly, but not fatally stupid.

I don’t do this on purpose, honestly

I saw some dust on a surface of my apartment or in a public place or gosh knows where. Rather than do the sensible thing, which would have been to wipe it off with a damp rag or at the very least my hand or arm, I attempted to blow the dust away.

A sensible person could guess what happened next: the particles flew hither and yon, and I felt some of them dive for safety inside the soft surfaces surrounding my eye. I tried to rub them away, met with little success, and went on with my day.

The pain of this crud behind my eye caused my eye to twitch and flex to get the offending matter out of my body, where it belonged. The corner of my eye–the white stuff called the sclera–started looking bloody like I’d lost a fight or been staying up late doing gosh knows what. It got to the point where my eye was flexing was I was sleeping, which was not fun. So, okay, I finally broke down and called an eye doctor.

Here’s where you get to learn something useful

So I finally made it to an eye doctor six days after making the bad decision to blow some dust out of the way. My first job upon coming into the office was to explain to the physician assistant exactly what my symptoms were; she could obviously see the glorious Big Red Spot filling the inner corner of my left eye.

I confessed to my stupid behavior and explained that I had itching, like something was still in there (“like there is a foreign matter disturbance still there?” the assistant confirmed). My eye felt like it was flexing, as if I had eye strain. I emphasized that while my eyes were watering, I could still see and function. And I added that the eye strain aspect of things was giving me a headache. I explained that I’d tried rubbing the eyes quite a bit, but hadn’t had much luck getting whatever was in there out.

All self-deprecating foolishness aside, this little medical episode provides a good example of how to interact with subject matter experts to get an answer you need.

  • I started by explaining how the condition might have occurred.
  • I described the outcomes (symptoms).
  • I explained what I had done to try to address the problem.

From there, the subject matter expert (doctor) applied some of his advanced tools and knowledge to address the problem. He determined that whatever gunk I’d gotten in my eye didn’t appear to be there anymore and that there was no permanent damage to my cornea (lens), which was a relief. He also explained that the eye has two layers: the conjunctiva and the episclera. If this had been a problem/inflammation on the conjunctiva, I’d have conjunctivitis (more commonly called “pink eye”); however, because the conjunctiva tends to leak when inflamed, he diagnosed the problem as being on the episclera, hence a case of episcleritis.

He then explained his remedy for the problem (X type of drops) and how it should be employed (every two hours the first day, four times a day for the next six days) before I came back for a follow-up visit. He also advised me to call immediately if there was an unexpected problem, but did not elaborate–there were some interesting potential allergic reactions listed on the medication’s instruction label, as the drops were a form of steroid. So on his side, the SME:

  • Examined and collected data about the situation
  • Eliminated obvious or other problems
  • Prescribed a solution
  • Provided specific instructions for implementing the solution
  • Provided guidance on what to do if the solution did not work, including an instruction to contact him

This patient-doctor discussion, then, is not far from a writer-SME interaction. It also serves as an excellent example of what an effective interaction should include. Not too bad, considering I got a sharp, tiny stick in the eye.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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One Response to Doctor Visits and Interviewing Subject Matter Experts

  1. On a personal note, almost too late considering my age, I advise everyone to start a health journal foe each family member. Since no one knows what lies ahead, it is a logical thing to do because one cannot remember everything a doctor tells you (I have been advised by a doc you retain 30% of what you are told). Note the symptoms, time frame, food intake, med you took along with results, etc. It’s a game I have created for seniors called I WISH I HAD…Don’t wait to become a senior.

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