When I decided to write this blog about doctors I have known, my mind immediately filled with so many memories, scenarios and opinions. I should explain I have seen doctors from both sides of the aisle, or patient bed. As a nurse of 40 years and a patient for 30 years, it’s been an interesting experience both sad, hostile, hilarious and most often, immensely helpful.
Physicians, like each of us are only human beings with hearts, brains and personalities that differ, one from the other. The primary difference we have is the fact they have been to college many years longer than most of us, the patients they serve. Many years ago, we revered our doctors and placed them in a place of near royalty. We didn’t question them and trusted them totally. With the advent of television and later, other forms of social media and the internet, we find ourselves becoming more knowledgeable about medical issues and don’t see doctors in quite the same light. This is a good step for humanity but it does put to rest the old image of the family doctor making house calls in his battered old hat, worn black leather satchel in hand working 24/7. I think this proved that physicians wised up as specialization grew. The playing field has also changed with more women becoming doctors. I’m not a feminist but I do think this is a good direction to grow into. I find most female patients feel more comfortable with a female physician. I, personally have three female doctors and three male ones. I am more relaxed and can speak more open heartedly and intimately with the females. Perhaps, a male patient feels the opposite emotions.
Before I get into some boring analysis about the world of medicine becoming too big for one person to know it all, I prefer telling you about some of the doctors I have worked with, known personally and gone to as a patient. Let’s just say medicine used to be confined to one encyclopedia but is now in volumes.
When I first got into the medical field, I was a recently divorced thirty-one -year-old with two small children to support without any child support. I was fresh meat on the job market and found a college education in American literature didn’t serve me well in the job market. After searching for a while, hanging on by my teeth, I got two job offers on the same day. I could go to work at one of the local banks as a teller or I could take the other offer to be a medical assistant in the back office of an ear, nose and throat group who were also plastic surgeons. I prayed I would make the right decision and now know it has had an effect on my entire life. I had a hard time imagining myself counting out dollar bills all day because math wasn’t really my thing. I also recalled how I had always wanted to be a nurse when I was a child, although in the fifth grade it might have had something to do with the crush I had a boy in my class named Clay who wanted to be a doctor. Therefore, the decision was made and I was off to borrow the money to buy two white uniforms and a pair of white SAS shoes.
I loved being a medical assistant and caught on quickly, or at least that’s how I prefer to remember it. Actually, I made plenty of mistakes but tried to learn from them. The three doctors who I worked for were as diverse as the seven dwarfs. If I named them I would call them Doc Steadfast, Randy the Goat, if you know what I mean and Money Bags. One was a bit older than the others and very set in his ways. The second one was a three-timed divorced doctor still in his late thirties who chased every blond nurse at the hospital in town. He often admitted he went into medicine because he thought it paid better than being an attorney. The third one was from a wealthy Beverly Hills background and brought a lot of business his way from that region of southern California. Incidentally, they were mostly “nose jobs.” All three of them were kind, one less patient than the others and two of them loved doughnuts. I was frequently asked to drive to the doughnut shop and pick up a box of mixed flavors. One morning I was heading out the back door as the older, more serious doctor was coming in and he asked me where I was going and I said, “I was asked to drive over to the doughnut shop to pick up an assortment.”
That kind, yet by then irate man, took me by the arm and marched me, actually dragged me back into the office and began to rant loudly at the other two physicians. He thought they should not be wasting my time since I was on the clock. Those three doctors descended into their previous juvenile states and the argument turned into a full-fledged brawl. They could be heard all over the front office, the back office and probably out on the street. That’s when I realized how all too human doctors could be. Donuts?
When I became a nurse, I again experienced the diversity of attitudes, temperaments and varying degrees of concern physicians have for their patients. One physician would always yell out loudly from anywhere on the ward, “Nurse, nurse, the poor doctor needs a nurse!” I was in surgery on occasion with a neurosurgeon who would always pat his female patients on the derriere while they slept and he did spinal surgery. Another more well-meaning obstetrical doctor would sing out loudly during his patient’s deliveries, “Shall we gather at the river?” as amniotic fluid flowed all over the delivery room floor. There was another kindly yet humorless older gent who gave all of his patients a Holy Bible when they were hospitalized.
It’s a hard way of life for them as we patients do not always understand the full weight of responsibility they bear. Being responsible for the life of another, day after day, makes you understand why so many young doctors are going into fields with less critical outcomes such as dermatology, podiatry, etc. There are also more and more who like the freedom of working in the Emergency Room. Some of these doctors are action junkies who like to deal with all that pumping adrenaline. I have often thanked God for the many good doctors I have known as a nurse and as a patient. There are a few I simply cannot be thankful for and admittedly walked out on those.
When I first began having trouble with my sacroiliac joints, many years ago, no one knew what it was. I was treated, guessed over, condescended to by many physicians. I finally found one at UCLA medical center who also didn’t know but at least took measures to make me feel better and pin pointed the problem. A name for my rheumatoid diseases did not come until much later. I recall the relief of him drawing a pen mark on my backside and showing his nurse and PT that he could touch the same spot each time to induce my pain. I knew he cared enough not to write me off. I also knew he believed me and how I had suffered at that time for three years without an answer. The medications and the physical therapy he ordered for me gave me hope.
I recall the young general practice physician I was seeing many years later opening my pathology report of my breast biopsy as I noticed her hands began to shake because she had to tell me I had breast cancer. I remember the bright young female surgeon who performed my mastectomy softly telling me in post-op, “We got it all.” Unfortunately, I heard that same, less joyful voice telling me two weeks later they dissected deeply into a lymph node and found cancer cell clusters within good cells. A year later, after going through radiation therapy, there is also a clear memory in my mind of my kindly, older dermatologist calling me on his day off to tell me a suspected skin lesion was actually breast cancer that had spread all over my skin.
So many doctors, some whacky, some fine, so many experiences some memorable, many forgettable have found their way into my life. I respect most of the doctors I have met as a patient and if I don’t, I never go back to see them again. I found you can respect a physician even if he or she can’t find the answers you seek. I started out respecting most of the doctors I’ve worked with over the years but have a few in my memory bank that were scary. They always had to work at losing my respect and some did.
The doctors I respect the most are the ones who can admit there is something they do not know, treat me or any patient with dignity and kindness. Compassion is wonderful when it shows up in a doctor patient relationship but isn’t always present. I try to give them a break. It’s a hard way of life.