Over my many years, I learned a great deal from my patients. In 1974, I was an anatomy grad student sitting in a lecture hall at the University of Virginia. The professor brought an octogenarian farmer onto the stage and explained that the gentleman had bilateral inguinal hernias documented in 1954 and was waiting until he retired to get them repaired. The patient laid down on the exam table, was covered and his pants lowered. (I was sitting in the back row of a lecture hall holding 350 people). When the professor said cough, two massive waves of intestines rose from the man’s abdomen/groin and flowed into his testicles. It was dramatic!
An 80 plus year old farmer became the first patient to teach me, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” He brought his homemade hernia belt and the device he used to connect it to a plow used to prepare his fields for planting. When future patients balked at surgical repair of their bothersome hernias, I might prescribe a hernia belt even though they were no longer an accepted treatment.
When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I went through every emotion you can imagine. It just wasn’t fair. Afterall, I was a caregiver, not a caretaker. At one point, I rationalized my illness by deciding that God was sending me back to school to become a better physician by studying illness from a different viewpoint. It dawned on me that by the completion of God’s lessons, I would no longer be able to practice medicine so why teach me in the first place. The answer was obvious. I always loved teaching and it was my opportunity to teach a new generation of medical students, residents and doctors a new way to understand and treat their patients.
As many of you know, I have been planning to write a new book detailing the transition of a doctor from physician to a chronically ill patient and the lessons learned in the process. For most of a physician’s career, he/she is taught by older physicians who are well and have not yet been personally touched by disease. Would a physician who was suffering from a disease be better suited at teaching his/her younger colleague? I think so!
In the past few years, Parkinson’s has given me a whole new perspective on medical care. From the first call to the doctor’s office to the waiting room experience, everything changes when you are the patient. The changes continue as you see the nurse who prepares you for the doctor’s grand entrance and the doctor’s visit itself. In each interaction the sick patient has with the medical complex, there are lessons to be learned and taught to future doctors.
As I started to organize the 2000 articles I’ve published over the years, I realized that I am missing a critical piece of information. I’m missing you, my readers, input. Over the next few months, I’m going to ask for your help.
Today’s question is, “What makes a good doctor and what makes an excellent doctor?” Think back to all the docs you have seen in the past and the ones you see now. The more detailed you can be, the better. Thanks, in advance, for your help.