Writers touch you. So do doctors. Or at least, they ought to. I find doctors who write doubly touching.
I have not had the opportunity to be treated by an Atul Gawande, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Noshir Antia or a Sandeep Jauhar. But I have read them and liked what they wrote. Should the need ever arise, I will have no hesitation to trust any of them with my life and health, simply because I have read them.
I believe good doctors tend to be good communicators too. It is a different matter all of them may not put down the stethoscope to pick up a pen or microphone.
When “i” overwhelms “I”
One doctor who has impressed me with both pen and microphone is Dr Abraham Verghese. Speaking at TED, he lamented “that the patient in the bed has almost become an icon for the real patient who’s in the computer…. I call it the iPatient. The iPatient is getting wonderful care all across America. The real patient often wonders, where is everyone? When are they going to come by and explain things to me? Who’s in charge? There’s a real disjunction between the patient’s perception and our own perceptions as physicians of the best medical care.”
It is true that the living, breathing, thinking, emotional “I” patient has been subsumed by the cold 0’s and 1’s of the “i” patient. Dr Verghese makes a strong case to return to old-fashioned touch, the thorough hands-on physical examination. He calls it a ritual, which he thinks, tells the patient: “I will always, always, always be there. I will see you through this. I will never abandon you. I will be with you through the end.”
That is the kind of reassurance that can beat any pill or scalpel.
Describing his recent trip to Kerala in The New York Times, Dr Verghese writes of the time he was moved to tears and filled with doubt about his profession after a kalari foot massage by a humble, silent therapist. “My text is the body, and at that moment I felt as if I knew so little about the body and even less about my own body, the specific collection of skin, bone and organs from which, by some alchemy of cognition, emotion, a beating heart and a functional larynx, my words, my text and these fears emerge….
“The one thing I had felt fairly certain about, the Western craft of medicine, now seemed lacking and superficial. I had done some exploring of the soul, but the study of the body would have to begin again with new purpose and vigor. God give me mastery of the body, is what I prayed on the flight back. Give me body and soul. I took a vow.”
Their writing mirrors their thinking, their humility and their soul. And that assures me, they will do the best for the body.