Since I wrote this post about the doctor-patient relationship of the broken, outdated, patriarchal system, I’ve been inundated with emails from all of you, telling me your horror stories. (Fortunately, you’re also telling me the good stuff in response to this post about the doctor-patient relationship in The Pink Medicine, so thank you for that!)
Because of the state of affairs of our current health care system, especially as it is here in the US, I find myself apologizing on behalf of my profession often these days.
So let me do that formally, here on Owning Pink.
I’ll start with my personal apologies, most of which are aimed at people who knew me back when I was seeing 40 patients/day in a busy managed care practice.
I’m so sorry to that kid I chewed out in the grocery store after I had been on call for 72 hours - the one who couldn’t get my bagel scanned for the life of him, which led me to spew, “If I did my job the way you did your job, there would be dead people everywhere.”
I apologize to any patient who didn’t feel like she could speak up and tell me what she was really feeling because I was crabby or rushed or too caught up in my own pain to notice hers. I’m sorry to that nurse whose advice I may have dismissed or that OR tech I yelled at when he handed me the wrong instrument because he couldn’t read my mind. I’m sorry to that acupuncturist whose work I didn’t understand. I’m sorry to my medical assistant, who was doing the best she could, and I’m sorry to my husband, who I’m guilty of ordering around like he was part of my staff.
If I’ve ever hurt anyone because of how I practiced medicine or who I am, I’m truly, deeply sorry. Please forgive me.
And because they may be too tired, busy, or asleep to do it themselves, let me also apologize to all of you on behalf of physicians everywhere.
If you’re a patient (as we all are), I apologize for any doctor who touched you brusquely and without asking. I’m sorry for all the times a doctor asked you a question and then cut you off before you answered or answered your questions with technical jargon that left you feeling stupid and scared, if they took the time to answer you at all. I’m sorry someone laughed when you suggested that your rash might be stress-related, and I’m sorry someone looked visibly annoyed when you did your homework and showed up to your appointment with internet printouts.
I’m sorry you overheard your doctor call you “Room 314,” and I’m sorry your doctor called you over the phone to tell you that your biopsy was cancerous, rather than delivering the results with a hug, the way it should be. I’m sorry your doctor stormed out when you refused to take the anti-depressants he prescribed to treat your menopausal symptoms, and I’m sorry you had to wait two hours to be seen for a scheduled appointment, as if your doctor’s time was more valuable than yours.
I’m sorry you were treated like a gallbladder or a hip bone or a liver or a vagina. I’m sorry if anyone ever called you a room number (as in “Go put an IV in Room 302.”) I’m sorry your doctor forgot that you’re a whole person with a brain and a heart and a soul and a family.
You deserve to heard, touched with gentle, loving hands, and invited to make informed, autonomous decisions about your own body. You deserve to have your innate self-healing mechanisms empowered and activated by those you trust with your whole health. You deserve to feel heard, nurtured, cherished, and, most of all, LOVED.
Love, presence, tenderness, and healing touch are the most healing gifts we can offer you, and yet, we’re denying you what you need like blood, like oxygen.
You have a right to be upset, because you deserve more than we’re giving you. You have a right to feel held in the warm arms of those to whom you entrust your body, mind and spirit. It is our job to hold dear that privilege.
I’m so sorry, darling. Really, I am. You are why we’re here. Let us appreciate the gift.
If you are a non-physician health care provider, I’m sorry for that doctor that treats you as if you’re not fit to scrape gum off her shoe. I’m sorry you feel like nobody appreciates the wisdom you’ve accumulated from years of experience. I’m sorry for the inhumane treatment you may have suffered at the hands of my colleagues, and I’m sorry you don’t feel validated, loved, respected, and cherished for the many times you’ve borne the indignities of your profession because you feel called to serve, and patients need you.
Without you, we couldn’t do what we do, and without your loving touch and healing words, patients would suffer. We appreciate you. I’m sorry if you can’t tell sometimes, but we do. We know things would fall apart without you, and we know you protect our patients and cover our asses more times than we even know.
Thank you for cleaning up our messes, returning the phone calls we should be making ourselves, holding the bedpans, squeezing the patient’s hand as she drifts off into an anesthetic sleep, picking up the instruments we throw on the ground in a huff, wiping the patient’s soiled bum, doling out the pain medicine, hand feeding the applesauce, and most importantly, sitting at the bedside long after we storm in and out in 2 minutes without listening.
We love you. I’m genuinely sorry, honey. What you do matters. YOU matter. Love matters. And you are the love messengers who pick up where we leave off. We might remove diseased organs or set broken bones, but our patients heal because of what you do. We bow to you and invite you to take equal seats at the healing round table, so we might better serve those who need us.
If you’re an complementary or alternative medicine provider or some other sort of counselor, coach, or healer, I’m sorry so many physicians respond to what they don’t understand by dismissing you or making you wrong. I’m sorry you’ve had your treatment plans changed without the respect of a simple phone call. I’m sorry you’ve gone to all this trouble to build a relationship with your client, only to have some doctor tear it apart with one ignorant and closed-minded comment. I apologize for that doctor who told your client that what you do is a bunch of valueless woo woo hooey not deserving of their hard-earned money.
I’m sorry they don’t teach us much about what you do in medical school, and I’m sorry we’re not motivated to learn more so we can better collaborate. I’m sorry we act like we’re “better” than you and lord our medical degrees over you in a misguided attempt to assuage our own insecurities.
What you do heals. Patients transform. You love. You listen. You spend time laying on hands as we rarely do anymore. It’s no wonder people value what you do, even when insurance companies don’t cover it. Ancient traditions bring great gifts to the healing toolbox we all share. By embracing the scientific method in Western medicine, we’ve made the mistake of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but you hold the baby. You nurture the baby. And that baby is time, presence, healing touch, and most of all - LOVE.
I’m so very sorry, dear ones. Thank you for what you do. You round out - and often replace (in a good way) - what we docs do, and we are grateful to anyone who transforms illness, sadness, or trauma into vitality, no matter how it happens. After all, the patient is what matters most, right? Don’t we all share a common goal?
Thank you for your healing gifts, and please - join us at the healing round table, where we can all be equal partners in the quest to facilitate the healing journeys of those we serve.
You may think, “But it’s not your fault, Lissa.” And no, it may not be directly my fault, at least not this time. No, maybe I wasn’t the one who never looked up from the computer when you last saw your doctor. Maybe I wasn’t the one who forgot your name, or shoved a prescription for an anti-depressant at you when you were crying without bothering to listen to what triggered the tears. I wasn’t the one who told your patient that Reiki was bullshit, when you were healing her illness.
I may not have been the one who yelled at you in front of the patient when you offered a suggestion you thought might help more than what I had ordered. I may not have thrown that bloody scalpel at you in the OR or squished you like a bug with my words. I may not have tormented you in medical school or mocked you when you cried.
And yet, I am not beyond reproach. I have been guilty of some of these wrongdoings, and my heart is full of remorse. After embarking upon my own healing journey and releasing much of the post-traumatic stress I suffered on the inside of the health care system, I am now a recovering physician, seeking reform, and I want to encourage a global healing between doctors, patients, and all others in the healing profession.
So please, I know I speak on behalf of hundreds of thousands of physicians when I say, “Please forgive us. We are sorry. And we want things to change.”
Have you ever felt diminished, hurt, dismissed, or disenfranchised by one of your health care providers? Tell us your story here.
Lissa Rankin, MD
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
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