Patients often believe our doctors see us as mere body parts: a breast; a heart; a rotator cuff. We so want to be more than that. We are people with pasts and presents and hopefully futures. Whole stories are contained within these cells that make up our bodies. We want those stories to be known and understood by our doctors, if only just a little.
I had less than a week to learn the meanings of words, to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for my procedure. In less than a week, I had to learn how to speak rudimentary doctor. I was lucky: Many patents have less time, sometimes no time at all, to immerse themselves in the language of medicine and its complex conjugations of tests and procedures and healing.
There is the perception that doctors use big unpronounceable words, "five-cylinder words," my dad used to call them, with an accompanying eye roll, to impress their patients, to insert an uncrossable distance between themselves and those for whom they care, to give the indication that the body of knowledge encased in the brain of the doctor is too complex for the patient to understand.
Likely that is not true. Likely the doctor, now so well-versed in medicine, has forgotten how to speak the language of patient; of spouse; of friend.
Writing teachers tell their students to strip away the big words. To excise the extraneous. To write not to impress but rather to be understood. Sometimes it's the small words that bridge the gap.
Speaking to be understood doesn't make doctors any less intelligent, less capable, less caring. Speaking to be understood makes a patient feel seen, heard, important.
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But could it be that doctors also don't feel important? Could it be that doctors feel they, too, are only seen from a one-sided perspective?
On the day I met my doctor, did I notice the color of the dress peeking out from beneath her white coat? Did I see the weariness around her eyes? Did I wonder about her husband, her car payment, whether she'd been up all night with a child who was ill?
No. This day was about me.
Patients often accuse doctors of having a "God complex." Maybe it is the patients who turn doctors into gods. Maybe we need to look beyond that one function of healing. Maybe we need to see the doctors as human beings.
Because doctors are, first and foremost, human, with human needs, human baggage, human emotion.
Doctors, too, have their own pasts. Their own presents. And, hopefully, their own futures.
Doctors have their own stories to be heard.
Kelly Garriott Waite writes from Ohio. Her work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. Her essay "Precipice" appears in the Spring 2016 Intima
© 2016 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine