Since retiring and moving to North Carolina, I’ve realized that one of the key tenets of medicine is wrong. I was taught to keep a professional distance between my patients and myself. Supposedly, if you are married to or friends with a patient, you can’t be objective. Therefore, you are not supposed to be friends with your patients, and you are not supposed to treat your family.
Looking back in time, I wonder how different life would have been if we had been friends in addition to doc and patient. I’ve certainly enjoyed and now miss the meals I’ve shared with some of you since retiring. Two of my patients have become my best buddies and we talk by phone often. They are the reason for this article.
I know I’m playing the “Should have, Could have” game I’ve written about in the past but I’m realizing how many friendships were stifled by a stupid rule of medicine. Frankly, the more I knew about you and cared for you, the more objective I became. The key word is care. Medicine without care is by its very nature, “careless.” Caring for you meant I had to be more objective, cover every possibility. It meant staying awake at night going over your chart, looking for the answers that would protect you.
It was not uncommon for a patient to tell me a story of how they perceived that a physician had hurt them or a loved one. Often, the question was, “Should I sue them?” The answer to that question was easy. I explained that if the doc made a mistake while he/she was “caring” for the injured party, they should not sue. Humans make mistakes and docs are human and you want a human taking care of you.
If the doc made a “careless” mistake, then he could be sued. So, does your doc care about you or are you just a number on a chart? So, if your sense is that your doc doesn’t care about you, find a new doc. Remember, the definition of careless: without care and that carelessness leads to mistakes. If I had a patient I didn’t care about, I invited them to find another doc. Yes, there were people who were impossible to care for. Interestingly, they often were married to individuals who were easy to care about.
Maybe things in medicine have gotten so bad because docs are trained to keep a professional distance and not show their emotions. I think my patients know how much I cared about them and their families. Certainly, many of you have seen me cry.
At first, I was embarrassed when I cried in front of patients. I was supposed to be the strong, authoritative personality who had the right words at the right time. I fought the tears and gave my support to what ever my patient was going through. As I matured, I realized that trying to hide my emotions was counterproductive. When telling a family their loved one had passed and their loved one was someone I had cared for over many years, it took too much energy to hide the tears that so needed to flow. So, I let them flow and cried with the family. Eventually, the nurses joined us, and the process of mourning ensued.
Does your doc care about you? I bet you know the answer. When I interviewed new specialists who moved into our community, the first thing I looked for was not their credentials, it was how caring they seemed. I didn’t need the smartest specialist. I needed the most caring specialist. The most caring specialist would always come up with the solution to my patients’ problem, he/she just had to work a little harder to find it. In the end, the caregiver who cares trumps the whiz kid who doesn’t.
Does your doc care about you? Do you care about your doc? If the answer to both questions is yes, then I think it’s fine to be friends.
Here’s your music and a joke.
My best mates and I played a game of hide and seek. It went on for hours… Well, good friends are hard to find.
Sometimes, a true friend offers a paw instead of a hand.
Crocodiles are easy. They try to kill and eat you. People are harder. Sometimes they pretend to be your friend first. – Steve Irwin