Assure patients that we are on their side

Malcolm Gladwell thinks we should tell people whats it’s really like to be a doctor.  And by God I have invested the last seven years in doing just that.  I have written countless blogs, given lectures, and traveled to Ireland.  I have coined the term Caring 2.0 to describe the bidirectional flow of empathy.  Patients will tell us what it is like to suffer with disease, and we will tell them of our own battles.

Forged somewhere in the molten lava of truth and disclosure, a deeper relationship will arise.  We will heal not only with our hands, but with our hearts.  In the process, the oozing festering gash of our painful existence will somehow be allayed.

Balderdash.

I was wrong.  Years, pages, and a book of poetry later, I have found that my most captive audience is not my patients nor the populace in general, but health care professionals.  That’s right.  The doctors and nurses are the ones who get the most out of my writing.  It took me nearly a decade to realize that I am preaching to the choir.  It’s my fellow PTSD’ers that find release by reading my words.

We are wounded soldiers searching not for a pat on the back nor a bow of recognition as much as knowing glance.  To share with other human beings the impossibly difficult situations we face only has resonance for those stuck in similarly claustrophobic corners.

Do I want to know all the near misses that occur yearly in our aviation system?  Do I want to hear about the accidental deaths by friendly fire in Iraq? No.  We want to believe that flying is utterly safe, that our military only protects, and that pain and suffering are twentieth century problems long resolved by our excellent medical innovations.

Your average lay person only wants to hear of death when they are forced to.  Face it when mom and dad are taking their last breaths, but otherwise push it back to the farthest reaches of the denying mind.

We physicians need to tell each other.  We need to confide in our brethren.  For those of us stuck in the thick mud of human destruction, the divide is too great for the uninitiated.

But there is something we can do to fight the colossal mess of what health care has become today.

Instead of trying to explain the tangled mess of our daily lives to our patients, we should instead assure them that we are on their side.  We should tell them that we won’t stand for the destruction of humanism in medicine by the cold calculus of technology.

We should tell them that we love them.

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

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