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Saturday, October 3, 2020

Why doctors should talk about the weather!

Sick? Click the boxes; tell the computer all; what symptoms do you have? Computers can fold in labs and other studies and spit out logical next steps. So, do we even need doctors?  Surely, after recent experiences with the medical profession, I wish we didn't.  

And I fear I'm not alone.That some of you or your loved ones can relate -- and have been talked to callously -- or thoughtlessly -- or examined more like hunks of meat than fellow humans swirling around the universe right along with the medical professionals.  

Before I go on, let me be clear. Of course, there are wonderful amazing medical humans! I have friends who surely are. I try hard to be one. And so, so many heroically braved Covid exposure to take care of us! And even on the lousy recent medical visit, I met thoughtful thorough medical folks - a nurse cracking jokes and a medical administrator telling me about her three-year-old granddaughter -- all while meticulously doing their jobs.

I am talking about the others -- who act distant. Cool. Cold. Are too spare in their explanations. Those without a social smile and who seem to have forgotten -- when we face illness, we need humans, albeit highly educated humans -- but humans nonetheless -- to guide us. 

A brilliant teacher of mine, Harvard's Dr. Paula Rauch, once said that family members facing horrific illness tend to feel like they are in empty metal drums alone; no one can hear; it is cold and hard in there; words and cries reverberate. But doctors can help -- by sharing that others have travelled this road -- by saying we will stay alongside.

The excuse for docs too often is not enough time. They have boxes to click. Malpractice to avoid. Patients piling up. Nope. Truth is, it takes only thoughtful seconds to make patients feel recognized as fellow humans. All you have to do is a couple of these:

  1. SMILE and look at the patient as you walk in. 
    1. Really. No matter how bad your day is.  
  2. SAY SOMETHING BORING and universal right off the bat!  
    1. "Nice to meet you. What a freezing fall day we're getting today, huh?" Or,  "How about that rainstorm! Sure hope you didn't get soaked coming in." And so on.
    2. Or if you loathe weather, branch out! "Traffic was brutal this morning for me, how about you?"  "I'd love a coffee about now, how about you? Wish I could offer one."  Anything. 
    3. Be awkward. That's fine. Whether it falls flat or not. You tried; you are joining the patient in being human, rather than leaving her or him alone with a very human illness.  
  3. APOLOGIZE to the patient.  
    1. I.e. acknowledge briefly the lousy winds of fate that brought him or her in today.  
      1. "I'm sorry you are dealing with this." 
  4.  JOIN the patient on his or her journey.  
    1. Let the patient know that you will be there. 
      1. Something like: "I'll help you deal with this."  Or, "No worries, I'll help you figure this out". 
      2. Or if you can't.  "I'll help you get the right specialist to take this on."
  5. And for extra credit.  
    1. Do NOT share scary information before doing a painful procedure, if possible.
      1. Fear increases pain. 
    2. Have a patient get DRESSED before sharing less than awesome news.
      1. Seems a minimal defense to allow a person -- a layer of reliable fabric between him or her and doom, rather than that famously flapping, hopelessly humiliatingly thin hospital gown.
And please share this post. Because we all need doctors some day.  And too often, it's sooner than we think.  

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