Touch me, know me, feel me

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First I thought there was an error in the heading: “Why Doctors Need Humanities”. After I read the article I was convinced that “Why Doctors Need to be Humane” would have been a more appropriate heading.

Reading the article made me wonder once again: Why do many prominent doctors and hospitals avoid palliative care like, well, the plague. They welcome the best talent and the best technology, but palliative care? “We cannot spare beds for that.”

To me, palliative care is synonymous with humane care. A hospital refusing to accommodate a facility for humane care is like a school saying we can give you reading and ‘riting, but no ‘rithmetic.

So, why have I have jumped from that Times of India article on Humanities to humane care? Precisely because that article deals with humane care.

Learn empathy with the -pathy
The problem, says the author, Professor Anand Krishnan, Centre for Community Medicine, All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences, is not that our doctors lack the scientific knowledge. The problem “is related to their insensitive behaviour which emanates from their ignorance as well as inability to handle the emotional distress of sick individuals and their near and dear ones. Doctors should not allow scientific medicine to blunt their humanity, ignore ethics and the need for empathy.”

Professor Krishnan laments that “A typical consultation today is of less than ten minutes and consists of a few cursory questions followed by a long list of investigations and medicines to be taken with poor explanation of (the) whys and hows.”

The death of E Ahamed, a Parliamentarian, kicked up a veritable why-how storm in both political and medical circles. Did they use the right equipment at the right time? Was the family denied access when it mattered most?

Instead of resuscitating that controversy, let us take note of what Dr M R Rajagopal, widely acclaimed as the father of palliative care in India, had to say following Ahamed’s death, as reported by The Deccan Chronicle:  “Science has to be used on human beings with humanity. Death is the inevitable consequence of life, and there is a time at which a gentle touch of a loved one, a few drops of water down the throat and religious rituals become more important than the latest technology.”

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Are you big enough to communicate small?

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Some of the best communicators I have met have taught me that you are truly big when you communicate small. That is, you get up from your plush designation, push aside the corporate façade, slide down the hierarchy balustrade and “stoop” to talk and connect with a simple, solitary individual.

Enduring connection

There was this owner of a group of companies, a true monarch of the market. He would look everyone in the eye, greet by name and enquire about the immediate family.

Last I ran into him, some four years after our last meeting, cruel circumstances had reduced the monarch to a pauper. But, he still greeted me by name, asked about my wife by name, named both my sons and correctly guessed their grade. He remains a communication king in my heart.

Of course, not everyone is blessed with that kind of memory. However, if you think it is important to communicate small, you will find a way.

Tech help

The CEO of one of the country’s largest companies used his secretary and his laptop to communicate small, big time. I helped him with a few templates. Just by adding a name and changing a few words, he would convert those into very personal letters to suit every occasion—from congratulations to condolences. Before he started a telephone conversation or his secretary ushered in a visitor, his database would bring up the gist of their last exchange—personal and professional.

Goes to show you can’t blame technology for the all-pervading disconnect. Use it right and it can help you connect—if it matters to you.

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