The Path of Mercy in Medicine: A Tale of Two Doctors

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more happy memories from ePatient ConnectionsPhysicians enjoy a unique position in our society with unique opportunities to make a difference in others’ lives. With that powerful role, they can choose between a path of mercy and a path of nonchalance. They can be a tool in the hands of God or they can just be a tool.

There was the woman who saved my son’s life after several doctors almost cost him it. She saw us immediately, listened carefully, and examined my baby. In hours, she operated and Bear was on the road to recovery. For almost a year, I’d been dismissed by one pediatrician after another as my son got sicker. They misdiagnosed him without examining him. They accused me of improper care or Munchausen’s.

Neither the lady doctor nor the hospital ever asked me for a penny. I was uninsured. They exercised pure mercy that changed our lives forever.

The contrasting paths of mercy and nonchalance are obvious.

Example 1: My back went out a few weeks ago. When a few days in bed with medications did not help, I eventually went to be seen. The woman patiently listened to my history and symptoms. She examined my back and said, “It’s swollen.” I hadn’t even realized it was still swollen. This injury is 26 years old and this is the first person to listen and examine it. When the MRI’s came back, she explained them in detail and answered every question. She did not roll her eyes or shrug. She gave me options. And that gave me hope. At times, I’ve spent weeks unable to even walk to the bathroom, but I have hope that it won’t ever last that long again. The best word I can find for her behavior is mercy.

Example 2: Sir Topham Head (Thomas the Tank Engine, tweaked) is another story. I only see him occasionally, but he’s always dismissive. My symptoms are minimized. My questions are unanswered. The best word in the dictionary for his manner is nonchalance. Maybe that is the opposite of mercy. In church they taught us that the opposite of love is indifference.

Patient advocacy experiences the same two alternatives

Hopeful words

Some doctors support our role to speak up for patients’ needs. We are blessed by their interaction in our community. But there are others who take the same approach as Sir Topham: dismissive of patients’ opinions.

Last week at epatcon I was excited to hear about a project with thousands of recordings of doctor-patient conversations, including rheumatologists. Then they acknowledged a type of doctor that is familiar: dismissive.

I was stunned. I don’t know why. Optimism interferes with my reason?

It’s clear to me now that there are two paths in medicine, mercy and nonchalance. It’s disappointing to occasionally experience the latter as a patient advocate; but I need to get used to it since some see epatients as “flies in the ointment.” The “patient voice” is tolerable as long as patients know their place. Talking with a friend today about both experiences – being dismissed as a patient and a patient advocate – I realized my passion to plead for mercy in medicine and for devotion to the Hippocratic Oath. “I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being…”

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Kelly Young. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 at 6:00 am and is filed under Don't miss this!. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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