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Still So Much to Learn

I was explaining to my community college English class what the term medical humanities means when one of the student’s hands shot up. She told the story of a friend of hers whose baby had just had surgery to repair a cleft palate. The surgeon’s first words to the parents after the operation were the issue. He said, “The surgery was successful, but you’re not going to like what you see.” The parents were horrified. You’re not going to like what you see.

This type of story is why I understand that there’s still so much work to do in the field of medicine. Communication is key. Here’s a super-skilled surgeon with a decade of training and tons of experience– the operation was successful —who terrified already frightened parents. One might say, well, the parents can handle it; after all, the operation went well.  But why should anyone have to “handle” it?  Parents of infants who’ve had surgery need a lot support and deserve clear and thoughtful communication.

Consider this, too. The surgeon’s words undercut his own success. Instead of feeling honored by the parents, he receives shock and anger. Wouldn’t he want to invite a positive interaction for all? Wouldn’t he want his clients to feel satisfied?  I’m sure he wants to feel valued and to be thanked wholeheartedly for his great work.

The student who shared this story with the class was quite passionate about the wrongness of the surgeon’s words. Apparently, the parents were devastated by them. I asked her what words the surgeon might have said that would have brought a better outcome. I can’t recall her answer exactly, but they went something like this:  “The surgery went really well. It will take a while for her to recover for she’s been through a lot, but she will heal beautifully, you will see.”

Of course, not all doctors communicate badly, but many do. What in their training could help?  Exposure to medical humanities. Bringing humanism into the equation and compassion into the discussion. Studying literature, for example, that helps professionals access their own vulnerability and confusion. Reading stories that reveal our shared humanity. When the hearts, heads, hands, and mouths of doctors work in synche, the outcome will be powerful. Until then, the wounding continues.

0 Responses to Still So Much to Learn

  1. Sad to say, “you are right on the money”. And this is arguably the snake in the woodpile that keeps motivating you and me to write our weekly posts.
    When one of my parishioners started his medical studies in the 1970s he told me he was horrified when one of his profs congratulated the assembled med students with: “You are going to be among the most elite, powerful and wealthy members of society.”
    Last week I came across this web forum comment:
    “I teach future doctors and I always ask why they want to go into medicine. Astonishingly many can’t answer this question well and when I probe it pretty much comes down to money and prestige. Few want to make people better. For the most part they are good at memorizing but have terrible analytical skills and are motivated for the wrong reasons.
    “You’re not a patient: you’re a cash cow that is there to pay for the new Porsche. The goal is to get the next patient in as quickly as possible because the only way to increase profitability is to increase patient turnover.
    “Real physicians are a thing of the past.”
    It’s also true that many doctors grow up and become more human, but many of the experiences we and others have had do indeed show that many have much to learn.

    • Horrifying! Incredible quotes that you shared. All the more reason to take more responsibility caring for oneself so we don’t need to see doctors so much, as Irene, the other commenter, says. And yes, more fuel for the fire. Your Comment certainly motivates me to keep blogging, teaching, and talking about these issues. So good to have you as company as I contemplate the flames.

  2. Sad to say, “you are right on the money”. And this is arguably the snake in the woodpile that keeps motivating you and me to write our weekly posts.
    When one of my parishioners started his medical studies in the 1970s he told me he was horrified when one of his profs congratulated the assembled med students with: “You are going to be among the most elite, powerful and wealthy members of society.”
    Last week I came across this web forum comment:
    “I teach future doctors and I always ask why they want to go into medicine. Astonishingly many can’t answer this question well and when I probe it pretty much comes down to money and prestige. Few want to make people better. For the most part they are good at memorizing but have terrible analytical skills and are motivated for the wrong reasons.
    “You’re not a patient: you’re a cash cow that is there to pay for the new Porsche. The goal is to get the next patient in as quickly as possible because the only way to increase profitability is to increase patient turnover.
    “Real physicians are a thing of the past.”
    It’s also true that many doctors grow up and become more human, but many of the experiences we and others have had do indeed show that many have much to learn.

    • Horrifying! Incredible quotes that you shared. All the more reason to take more responsibility caring for oneself so we don’t need to see doctors so much, as Irene, the other commenter, says. And yes, more fuel for the fire. Your Comment certainly motivates me to keep blogging, teaching, and talking about these issues. So good to have you as company as I contemplate the flames.

  3. Your post supports the feeling and intuition we have about handing over our lives to people who do not have all the answers. Assuming more responsibility and giving physicians less is one possibility. However, in the case of infant surgeries and trauma, we might be at the mercy of the medical establishment. Time often seems to be the critical factor. We count on the physician to heal. It seems clear to me that medical training that includes medical humanities, the emphasis on
    wholeness or holistic, is one way to make the process “human.”

  4. Your post supports the feeling and intuition we have about handing over our lives to people who do not have all the answers. Assuming more responsibility and giving physicians less is one possibility. However, in the case of infant surgeries and trauma, we might be at the mercy of the medical establishment. Time often seems to be the critical factor. We count on the physician to heal. It seems clear to me that medical training that includes medical humanities, the emphasis on
    wholeness or holistic, is one way to make the process “human.”

  5. Uh ho…hit a nerve with this post. My PTSD is under reasonable control with the exception of medical environments. I get extremely agitated, can barely contain my fight or flight response, BP gets critically high. I have tired to find an MD that understands, but haven’t scored yet. I once went 25 years without seeing a doctor, I really am trying to take care of myself, but not getting much co-operation from the profession. They got lots of round holes and do not want any square pegs messing up the routine.

  6. Uh ho…hit a nerve with this post. My PTSD is under reasonable control with the exception of medical environments. I get extremely agitated, can barely contain my fight or flight response, BP gets critically high. I have tired to find an MD that understands, but haven’t scored yet. I once went 25 years without seeing a doctor, I really am trying to take care of myself, but not getting much co-operation from the profession. They got lots of round holes and do not want any square pegs messing up the routine.

  7. Yes. The other day after a teeth cleaning while talking to my dentist, I mentioned the connection between the fact that I grind my teeth at night and the pain of my infant surgery, and I could see him begin to tune me out. Granted I was lying back in the dentist’s chair and couldn’t see his total reaction, but I did see his reluctance to engage on this topic. He seemed a bit scared actually. If not scared, then certainly hesitant. I was a square peg messing up the smooth, quick assessment after the teeth cleaning. I do hope you find a doctor who has a more sophisticated and holistic view of human health. Have you heard of integrative medicine? As I understand it, these physicians have been trained in the mind/body connection. Perhaps you might be able to find one in your area. I go to osteopaths, for they are trained in western medicine and in osteopathy, a gentle way of working with the muscles and bones to treat out of balance bodies. In any case, it’s great to be able to talk to another square peg. I think there are more of us than we may realize.

  8. Yes. The other day after a teeth cleaning while talking to my dentist, I mentioned the connection between the fact that I grind my teeth at night and the pain of my infant surgery, and I could see him begin to tune me out. Granted I was lying back in the dentist’s chair and couldn’t see his total reaction, but I did see his reluctance to engage on this topic. He seemed a bit scared actually. If not scared, then certainly hesitant. I was a square peg messing up the smooth, quick assessment after the teeth cleaning. I do hope you find a doctor who has a more sophisticated and holistic view of human health. Have you heard of integrative medicine? As I understand it, these physicians have been trained in the mind/body connection. Perhaps you might be able to find one in your area. I go to osteopaths, for they are trained in western medicine and in osteopathy, a gentle way of working with the muscles and bones to treat out of balance bodies. In any case, it’s great to be able to talk to another square peg. I think there are more of us than we may realize.

    • Zerina M.
      I agree with you that the only way to properly heal is by communicating. We even found two more people in our class with a similar story to yours and I believe they’ll think more deeply about their own experience after reading your blog.

    • Zerina M.
      I agree with you that the only way to properly heal is by communicating. We even found two more people in our class with a similar story to yours and I believe they’ll think more deeply about their own experience after reading your blog.

  9. in my opinion, it all evolves around the person receiving the information. Enthusiasm is a attribute that most doctors like to approach with, whether it’s a joke or not. Having to tell the parents whats going on is difficult, especially when you have negative results. If the results are positive the doctor will joke around before unleashing good news.

  10. in my opinion, it all evolves around the person receiving the information. Enthusiasm is a attribute that most doctors like to approach with, whether it’s a joke or not. Having to tell the parents whats going on is difficult, especially when you have negative results. If the results are positive the doctor will joke around before unleashing good news.

  11. I work in the medical field myself. And lot of the nurses and doctors need a course on how to be more compassionate and more understanding towards the patients and their families. Some handle and talk to the patients rough. And please don’t let them have dementia.

    • Yes, Alicia. I saw that rough treatment with my mother who had dementia in her later years. It’s hard to watch, isn’t it?

  12. I work in the medical field myself. And lot of the nurses and doctors need a course on how to be more compassionate and more understanding towards the patients and their families. Some handle and talk to the patients rough. And please don’t let them have dementia.

    • Yes, Alicia. I saw that rough treatment with my mother who had dementia in her later years. It’s hard to watch, isn’t it?

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