Over the summer, I wrote a love letter to doctors intended to help me release some of the charge I still feel regarding the way doctors have treated me throughout my medical training and in my old practice. I wrote the letter as a letter of forgiveness, but I recently did a session with an energy healer and realized that I still carry some old baggage around this issue.
I was already feeling a little wounded regarding my relationship with doctors as a whole. Just to clarify, I have many personal friendships with doctors whom I love very much. My father was a doctor. And I am a doctor. So I’m not some doctor-basher standing in the wings. When I say I’m pissed at doctors, I include the doctor I was (until four years ago) on the list of docs I want to give a piece of my mind.
What I’m referring to is not any individual doctor. I’m talking about doctors with a capital “D.” I’m referring to the institution. The American Medical Association. The colleges and medical schools that train doctors. The collective body of doctorhood. You get the picture. This is what I mean when I say I’m pissed at doctors. I’m embarrassed, ashamed, and horrified at what is happening to my profession, and as someone from within it, I think it’s high time to speak up.
Yesterday, I got an email from a friend of mine who just came back from seeing a doctor.
Lissa, if this doctor robs me as I leave the building, I wouldn't be able to confirm it was him, as I don’t think he looked at me once. From the nurse intake to the actual exam room, both practitioners faced AWAY from me, towards their computer terminals, while they asked me questions and clicked away at the keyboard. The computer fed him my new prescription, and he never even discussed it with me. I am as disgusted as I am bewildered. If a computer program is all I need to monitor and refill prescriptions on my current or chronic conditions, then what the flying furry F-CK am I doing spending an hour in a waiting room, waiting to look at some guy's back?!? Oh, and don't forget -- the nurse clearly put a wrong code into the computer, because he came in prepared to give me a BREAST exam, rather than listening to my asthmatic CHEST. I was like,"What are you talking about, sir? You have the wrong information or else the wrong room." Sigh. I’m so so so so mad right now. I’m never coming here ever again. You keep to doing it the right way, sister. I appreciate you so much.
This email prompted me to take a long hike on a remote ocean view trail far from civilization. The more I thought about it, the more angry I became, until I finally stopped, planted my feet on the earth, raised my arms, and screamed. Literally, I stood there like a crazy person and shrieked until my throat hurt. And then my screaming turned to tears, until I was sobbing uncontrollably, blubbering, hot, fierce tears of anger, sadness, and hurt that lasted almost two hours.
Because they hurt me, those doctors. I led a sheltered life as a child. With loving parents and a nurturing home life, I wasn’t prepared for the abuse that started in medical school. The innocent, naïve 22 year-old I was didn’t know how to cope with surgeons throwing scalpels at me, doctors sexually harassing me, or teachers forcing me to take anti-nausea medication and wear Depends so I could scrub into surgery when I had the flu. I didn’t know how to handle the professor who said, “I didn’t even go to my own father’s funeral” when I begged for two days off so I could attend my grandmother’s wake. I wasn’t prepared to cope with sleep deprivation and meal-skipping that left me weighing 100 pounds at 5’5” tall, and vicious, threatening verbal attacks from narcissistic doctors hell bent on knocking me down.
But it’s more than that, really. I was also crying for the doctors with their backs to patients and their hands on doorknobs, ready to bolt. I cried for my boss who forced me to see 40 patients a day until I quit practicing medicine for two years because I knew it wasn’t supposed to be this way. I cried over managed care and malpractice attorneys and technological “advances” that have turned many doctors into highly skilled mechanics who don’t have a clue how to be with a human. I cried because nobody ever taught me in medical school that there’s a difference between healing and curing, and that you can cure without healing or heal without curing.
Something has happened, at least in the United States, that has made doctors lose the heart of medicine. Too many docs have gone from being healers to being doctorbots who churn through patients in 7½ minutes. Even mechanics spend more time with their “patients” than they do these days.
Before antibiotics, chemotherapy, safe surgery, and other modern inventions, all doctors could really do was sit at the bedside and attend to the family when someone was ill. Now we have vaccinations and ventilators and virus-fighting medications, but look what we’ve lost. We’ve lost bedside manner, hand-holding, and hugs.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I know that I’m doing what’s right for me. And I’m not alone in the desire for this kind of medicine. People want to reclaim the heart of medicine. Most of us just don’t know where to start.
I know things can change. But it takes awareness.
What do you think? Have you had tough doctor experiences? Is your doctor there for you? Do you feel heard and understood? Do you steer clear of doctors? Tell us what you think.
Holding out for the heart of medicine,
Lissa Rankin, MD
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