Blog | Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Meeting illness in stages


I saw a friend and colleague today, a physician, who is back from maternity leave, her child finally out of the NICU and mercifully healthy. She had the unwanted chance to see some of the health care system from the caregiver’s side, and the glimpse wasn’t all heartening. “It’s true what they say,” she remarked. “It’s different to see things as a patient.”

I haven’t seen the health system much from the other side. We have had our children, but my wife was the one who assessed the quality of the obstetricians and gynecologists first-hand. I have taken these children to the doctor, but not for anything serious, thank goodness. We are healthy and my parents are well.

But time will pass, and people will age and fall ill. That is nothing to look forward to. Each experience, however, will shed a different light on what it means to be a patient, and perhaps, in so doing, these experiences will make me a better physician, or at any rate a more sympathetic human being.

By the same token, as you—whoever you are, whatever situation you find yourself in—make your way through the many small fears, midsized setbacks, and destabilizing tragedies that make up much of life, you will become more experienced in knowing how you and your family react to them. You can help your doctor understand what sort of a person you are when such difficulties hit, and continue to invest in a relationship that might help in these circumstances.

Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews. He is also a poet, journalist and translator in Yiddish and English. This post originally appeared at his blog.