More than patients: Colleagues

Roger struggled with various maladies that came with growing older.  His blood was occasionally too sweet, his pressure stumbled upwards, at times perilously.  But it was the colon cancer that gave him pause.  It started rather innocently.  At first he noticed a little blood on the toilet paper, later, a touch of abdominal pain.  He put off the appointment for a few weeks, but eventually he showed up in my examining room.

We talked about the pros and cons of colonoscopy. Roger liked to think deeply about his medical problems.  A few days later, he underwent the procedure.  The cancer was localized. We picked a surgeon that seemed to fit his personality.  He scheduled a visit with me right after his consultation to talk over the options.  Would it surprise you that he thought of doing nothing?

Roger eventually had the surgery.  His recovery was rocky.  I visited him in the hospital every day. When his temperature spiked, I put him on antibiotics for pneumonia.  There was a short nursing home stay.  To see Roger ambling through the hallways of the extended care facility was quite a sight.  A place he said he would never go, he seemed like a king sitting atop his thrown.

I discharged him home when he was strong enough to handle the apartment on his own.  There was quite a bit of discussion, he actually left a little earlier than I preferred.  What could I say?  He made some good points.

I bumped into Roger while walking down the street the other day.  He was chatting affably with an acquaintance.  He greeted me with a warm handshake, and we stood silent for a moment. Then he turned to the gentleman standing quietly next to him, and apologized for not introducing us.

“I almost forgot.”

He paused, and smiled broadly.

“This is my colleague, Dr. Grumet.”

Colleague.  I thought about Roger’s words later that night while daydreaming in front of my computer. He was right.  The word patient didn’t really make sense.  There was no paternalism.  A light went off in my head that day, and I haven’t used the term patient since.

In the job of safeguarding Roger’s well being, we were partners, workmates, collaborators.


Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician and founder, CrisisMD.  He blogs at In My Humble Opinion.


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  • John C. Key MD

    Excellent. We can get rid of “patient” and “provider” for once and for all.

  • penguin50

    The sentiment behind referring to patients as “colleagues” is laudable, but in everyday usage, doesn’t applying this word to patients simply create confusion? If a doctor mentions a colleague, I would think that he or she meant a professional peer, not a person under their medical care.

  • Pauline Lambert Reynolds

    This piece is a moving tribute to the doctor who wrote it. I have felt, at times, the same relationship with some of my doctors.

  • kathy kastner

    Beautiful. Inspiring. One day perhaps an ‘evidence-based’ standard. Thank you for sharing. Kathy Kastner