Doctors and Patients: How We Help Each Other

“One of my pet peeves is over-reliance on science and technology at the expense of a caring doctor-patient relationship.” Abraham Verghese, MD[i]

Dr. Abraham Verghese holds a prominent place among my medical heroes because of the way he champions the doctor-patient relationship. Today, medicine seems to be dominated by devices, tests, procedures, reports, records, and economics. Yet hidden beneath this mass of technology and reimbursement issues, the truth of healing lies in the ability of the patient and doctor to connect at a very basic, heartfelt level. Dr. Verghese is like a wise sage, persistently pointing out the need for the doctor to open himself to the patient’s world, the best way to merit the patient’s implicit trust.

This is not a one-sided process. I learn so much from my patients and their families because they share their ideas, hopes, theories, fears, values, and goals with me. I also observe qualities of courage, optimism, honesty, and commitment—the often intangible “life preservers” that make it possible to go through rough waters in life. Surely a cancer diagnosis rocks the boat.  As I try to listen beyond the spoken words to the inner person (what psychoanalyst Theodor Reik called “listening with the third ear”) I feel that each patient helps me grow and become not just a better doctor, but also a better person.

It is both moving and humbling for me to be able to offer someone the potential for curing his cancer. Who’s to say but that someday I myself will face a frightening diagnosis, be it cancer or other life-threatening disease? Should that occur, the example of every patient whom I’ve had the honor to diagnose or treat will undoubtedly sustain me. I will have to grow to trust my doctors just as trust was placed in me.  I have no doubt that I gain as much, if not more, from every patient it is my honor to encounter. It is exactly this kind of two-way street that makes life so meaningful.

 


 

[i] From a compilation of interview quotes at http://abrahamverghese.mc2beta.com/home/faq/#Medicine

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