Read a post over at Reflections of a Grady Doctor yesterday that absolutely stopped me in my tracks. Still chewing on that one a day later. Go read it. Really.
In case you didn't, it's the story of this doctor's interaction with a particular patient, one who made a conscious decision to be joyful even though things didn't look so hot for him. The way he saw it, his mood was a choice, even if his circumstances weren't.
That patient sounded like a kick. A good guy. A funny guy. The kind you really don't want to have anything bad going on with them. Especially if you are the one who has to deliver the bad news. And this guy had some pretty bad stuff going on. I'm no doctor (well, technically, I am, but not the kind who sees human patients), but reading between the lines, I'm guessing that this guy had pancreatic cancer. Bad bad bad stuff, lousy prognosis.
It's not a coincidence that I am not the kind of doctor who sees patients, actually. This kind of situation is exactly why I'm not.
I went to graduate school in a medical school. I did breast cancer work for my doctoral research. In that kind of setting, you often find yourself wondering if you should be wearing a different kind of white coat. As a third-year grad student, I went so far as to shadow an oncologist for a few days. What I saw in those few days convinced me that I would make a terrible medical doctor.
I understand that some people have to be oncologists. I understand that the right kind of person can make all the difference in how news is delivered and what happens next. I even understand that it is possible to learn to measure success by milestones other than "cure." But *I* can't. I couldn't leave the patients at the office. That job would have killed me. I can still see some of the faces all these years later: the shell-shocked man who'd just found out he had lung cancer; the Hispanic immigrant with a massive external breast tumor, the woman with the bellyful of ascites.
The doctors must have some way to emotionally survive this kind of patient load. The ones I worked with were mostly very kind and professional. But one ASSHOLE dropped a bomb of a diagnosis on a patient and then walked out of the room, telling him that a nurse would be in shortly and leaving him alone with me. I sat with him until the nurse came just to keep him company; as I recall, we talked about the weather and the hometown baseball team.
That was it for me. I couldn't do the job as I then was, and I was damned if I was EVER going to turn into that particular kind of person who could. Went back to my lab and stayed there, earned my Ph.D. a couple of years later.
All of this is to say that there is a very special place in my heart for the good kind of doctors. Hats off to you, Dr. Manning. Fight the good fight.
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