Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Hate Doctors

I'm at the age now where I have friends who are doctors. Not PhDs. Actual doctors. Men and women who treat illness and disease and write prescriptions and stuff. Doctors. In any case, if you happen to be reading this and are one of those friends who is a doctor, rest assured that I do not hate you.

Nor do I hate all of the doctors who have treated me or my loved ones over the years. My kids' pediatrician is an absolutely wonderful person (and doctor). We love him. G had a number of fantastic doctors when he was in the NICU and we recently took S to a pediatric neurologist who was great. We even talked about Camus.

No, I hate doctors in the same general way that I hate auto mechanics: because I am almost completely at their mercy. When I take the car to the shop and the mechanic tells me that something is wrong with it, I have to take him at his word since I don't have the knowledge base to challenge what he says. If I did, I probably wouldn't be at the mechanic's in the first place. It's kind of a helpless feeling. He might be ripping me off. But how would I know? I could take the car somewhere else but I've already spent a day without a car in order to get this diagnosis. Better off to trust him, pay the money, and hope he's competent and at least moderately virtuous.

Ratchet that up a few notches when I go to the doctor. If the doctor tells me that I or the kids have something (or, sometimes, nothing), I have to take him at his word. I haven't been to medical school. So I suppose it's really being in the position of having to trust doctors that I hate, not the doctors themselves.

I think the difference between the doctors I like and those I don't (and now I'm talking about the doctors themselves) is that the doctors I like seem to be aware of the unequal nature of our relationship--they know they are the medical experts--but they nevertheless do their best to equalize that relationship. That is, they know it can be a helpless feeling for patients to have to trust someone about medical issues and they work to make the power imbalance less palpable: they talk about things other than medicine, they explain their thought processes, they present options, they act like they want to help and as though your concerns aren't stupid (even if they might be). Maybe all of this sounds obvious. But given the number of doctors I've met who seem not to know it, perhaps it's worth saying anyway.

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