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"I understand"...but really?

My biggest pet peeve is probably when someone says they understand the pain or frustrations or problems I'm having in life. Naturally, people want to be empathetic. They want to identify with another however they can, and sometimes the words, "I understand" just spill out. I know I've been guilty of that before. But truly, when someone uses those two words in an utterance, I cringe on the inside. 

Two weeks ago, I was scheduled to have a pulmonary embolization. I got to the hospital at 12:00pm for what I thought was supposed to be a 1:00pm surgery. However, after I registered for my surgery and was sent to imaging, the nurse told me that in their system, I was scheduled for a CT scan to check for a blood clot--the exact opposite of the problem I was having with lung bleeds. Now, needless to say, I was not a happy camper. I hadn't eaten or had anything to drink since 10pm the previous night. I was weak and tired. I was nervous about having to have the procedure. And then the nurse tells me the scheduling desk scheduled the wrong procedure? I was pretty frustrated. To add insult to injury, the head of scheduling talked to my mom to see if we could reschedule the procedure; when my my mom was explaining why we were so upset, the scheduling lady said those two words I never want to hear, especially not from a medical person--I understand. Woooaaaahhhhh no. My mom went off, and if I had been talking to her, I would've give her an earful, as well. 

You may be wondering why someone saying they understand bothers me so much. When someone says that they understand your problem or frustrations, they are belittling why you're upset. When the scheduling lady said she understood why we were mad about her department's mistake, she was trying to calm our anger. She didn't want my mom or I to take drastic measures against the hospital and wanted to deal with the problem and move on as soon as possible. She cared about covering her bases and convincing my mom and I that she saw that there had been a mistake. However, she was completely ignoring the fact that we were upset. She ignored our pain and tried to say that she got exactly how we were feeling. As well, no one can know exactly what another person is going through in a specific situation. Even another CF patient could not know exactly what I was feeling on that day. A scheduling receptionist who does not have cystic fibrosis and who, to my knowledge, had never dealt with a scheduling mess up for her own personal surgery, could not understand what I was going through. There's no possible way. If she had said, "I'm sorry", or "my department messed up", I still would have been frustrated, but I wouldn't have gotten nearly as frustrated with her specifically. She wasn't the one starving or the one with the blood sugar problems or the one that had been up half the night worried about the surgery or the one who had to reschedule the surgery for the next week or the one who had less time to recover before heading back to school. She did not understand, and I didn't want her to say that she understood. I wanted her to apologize and try to fix the mistake, showing empathy in that way and being quick in her problem solving. 

Note to all you lovely readers: don't tell others that you understand what they're going through. Show empathy, be willing to listen, give advice when asked, love others well. But don't say that you understand unless you've been in the exact same situation, and even then be careful with your words. You never know what your words could portray to someone. 


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