Was really taken aback by a couple of patient comments today. One was from an elderly woman who we were asked to consult on. She refused to have anything to do with us, stating that we were there to experiment on her. Didn't think too much of this comment - the lady could have had a touch of paranoid schizophrenia
, or schizotypal personality.
But then later in the day, a family member of another patient jokingly said, "are you guys experimenting on XXX?!
" Although it was meant to be a joke, and I don't think the family member really believes that we would be experimenting on their loved one, all jokes come from some version of reality...
The comments really caught me off guard. The more I thought about where they were coming from, the more I realized that, for all they knew, we could be experimenting on their loved ones. After all, unless they were in the medical field, all they knew was that teams of physicians came in and out of the room, all of them perplexed by the strange medical condition affecting their loved one, all of them poking and proding, all of them asking for different tests to be done to try and see if they could figure out what was going on, and day after day still with no good answer as to what the medical problem was. Meanwhile, from our point of view, there was a multi-disciplinary team including almost all the subspecialties of medicine consulting on this complex patient, trying to figure out what in the world was causing his constellation of symptoms, and truly, no one having a clue.
I can see how it could be extremely difficult on patient's families to see their loved ones sick and see physicians struggling with figuring out what is going on. But the leap from "how come these doctors can't figure it out
" to "gee, they must be experimenting on my loved one
" is still a hard one for me to take. I mean, I guess it's a possible reaction to stress. And fortunately most patients give us their trust without asking for much proof. But to think that there may be a significant number of patients who suspect that we may not be honest, or that we may be trying to trick them, or experiment on them, makes me nauseous.
I've heard two such comments this week. How many more patients think these things but don't say them?
To these people, I'd really like to say - do you know that I swore an oath never to harm and only to try and heal? Do you know that I've been working like a madwoman, up at odd hours, tired beyond belief, for you? Do you know that the thought of "experimenting" on any living being had never, ever crossed my mind before you brought it up? And that while I'm sacrificing the best years of my life to take care of you and others like you, hearing that you think I may be trying to harm you makes all the long days and nights that much harder to bear?
I'm as human as you are. I'm not saying that we will always know the answers. We may not always be able to heal, or cure. I chose this profession to try to relieve suffering. But I can't help you if you don't let me. All I'm asking is that you trust that we have your best interest at heart. Because if you don't trust me, how can I take care of you?
While trusting us may seem like blind faith, it's not that new of a concept. After all, you trust that the Starbucks kid isn't lacing your coffee with arsenic. You have to believe that the babysitter isn't going to harm your kid. You trust that the random taxi driver isn't going to take you somewhere and kill you. You have to operate with a level of blind trust to get through the day. Is it so much to ask that you trust us as well?photo credit