There was nothing the professor despised more then the syrup that oozed out of his partner’s lips when dealing with patients. He often cringed as he walked by the examining room and imagined the hand holding that was taking place behind closed doors.
Privately, they argued about the different approaches. One saw the world in terms of black and white, while the other was steeped in a foggy haze of gray. The professor felt that patients needed to be scolded and prodded into the preferred direction. He heard the rumblings of patient empowerment and had quite a cackle in the physicians lounge with his like minded colleagues.
If they are so empowered, why do they come whining to us?
The professor had no problem laying down the proverbial law to his patients. In fact, it was during one of these impromptu brow beatings of a young lady with morbid obesity that he felt the first twinge in his chest. It was fleeting like a wisp of air that came and went by the time one was able to think about it.
The professor dismissed such symptoms. He was healthy to the bone and wouldn’t let such musculoskeletal aches and pains bother him. As the days passed he randomly rotated his shoulders and expanded his chest in order to recreate the discomfort he felt in the exam room. If he could reproduce the symptoms then surely it must not be his heart. But nothing happened.
A few days later a sharp stabbing thorn pierced his sternum while talking on the phone with a colleague. The professor almost dropped the receiver but recovered when the sensation dissipated. As the day progressed, the pains began to increase. They came more frequently and lasted longer.
The professor muddled to rationalize his symptoms as something benign (a process which he would have highly criticized in one of his patients). He tossed and turned in bed till midnight before finally falling asleep. He awoke an hour later in a panic. He felt a crushing pressure over his chest and he gasped for air. He reached over to pick up his cell phone.
Hello 911 … I’m having a heart attack!
The professor was convinced that his ride to the emergency room would be his last tenuous grasp on a life cut short in its prime. But with a little oxygen and nitroglycerin, his pain abated.
When his partner waltzed into the exam room at three in the morning, the professor felt a moment of embarrassment before relenting to the overwhelming sense of relief. There was not a trace of mocking in his partner’s voice.
You had me scared there for a moment, I hope you don’t mind that they gave me a call.
He placed his hand on on the professor’s gowned shoulder and then began to examine him. Later he sat in a chair next to the gurney and reviewed the options. To his great surprise, the professor didn’t mind being treated like and ordinary patient. He felt strangely taken care of and glad to have his doctor illicit his opinion.
They eventually decided on a short stay in the hospital and a nuclear stress test the next morning. The professor fell asleep peacefully as he waited for his bed on the telemetry unit.
The stress test showed no signs of heart disease. It appeared that the professor was more likely having a panic attack. After dressing to leave the hospital, he sat a few moments with his partner who was preparing the discharge paperwork.
He looked appetizingly at the man standing in front of him. What once evoked anger and sarcasm now seemed almost angelic. He had come to understand what patient centered care meant. The idea was to place the physician and patient on the same level. There was no need for power inequality.
To his great surprise, he had become an empowered patient. Not by his own knowledge or abilities, but rather by the respect and dignity afforded by his colleague. He had been both assured by his physician, but also allowed to participate in his own care.
On that day he vowed that he would no longer be the professor.
He would be a student, a student of human nature.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion.
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