When doctors become patients

Imagine you work in the health care industry: You have a lot of medical knowledge.

Until one day you yourself experience a major health problem. Now, you’re the patient. You’re the one who’s helpless and dependent.

That’s what happened to the health care workers in this video of The Cleveland Clinic. The doctors, nurses and caregivers featured here learned firsthand what it’s like to be a patient.

The psychiatrist Robert Klitzman wrote a book ‘When doctors become Patients’. A book about the experience of doctors who fall ill and see the other side of the coin, as a patient. A dramatic transition – a spiritual journey for some, a radical change of identity for others, and for some a new way of looking at the risks and benefits of treatment options. For most however it forever changes the way they treat their own patients.

The book opens your eyes to the vulnerability and human nature of physicians.

Eric Manheimer was medical director of Bellevue Hospital Center when he became a patient.

For my doctors, it was all about the numbers, the staging of my cancer, my loss of weight and strength. For me, too, it was about the numbers: the six feedings I pushed through the syringe into the plastic tube in my stomach every day; the number of steps I could take by myself; how many hours I had to wait before I could grind up the pill that allowed me to slip into unconsciousness.

But it was also about more: my world progressively shrinking to a small, sterile, asteroidal universe between the interminable nausea and the chemobrain that left my head both empty and feverish, between survival and death.

In 2012 he published 12 Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital He is not a good writer but I love the stories.

I found an article of Dr Liam Farrell in The Irish Medical Times, who wrote about his experience of, and recovery from addiction.

When you are faced so starkly with your own vulnerability, it does make you understand patients so much better … We are frail, we are human — bad things can happen to us, just like anybody else. I think we have to be aware of our own mortality and our own frailty as well, and not be ashamed to look for help if we need it, and also to watch out for each other – not in a ‘big brother’ kind of way — but I think we have to look out for each other’s health.

Please read http://www.bmj.com/content/339/bmj.b2862 , a patient journey about Mesothelioma. And than watch this video.

My thoughts:

One of the most common themes to doctors, being patients, was the importance of being seen as a person.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability Hippocratic Oath – Modern Version

Protests from patients that doctors are too busy to listen or that they lack sympathy or empathy are often met with defensiveness and excuses. But doctors who have experienced the fear and despair of serious illness are keen to emphasise the importance of humanity in care.

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