Today’s Medical Monday post is written by someone who is very familiar with the medical world, both conventional Western and alternative. Read his perspective on the power of the White Coat and the differences between what he refers to as prime ministers and presidents.
Going back as far as I can remember, the White Coat of the medical professional has been the symbol of the reasonable, knowledgeable expert on our health and physical condition.
When I was a boy, the esteem we gave the White Coat was substantial and broad. As a matter of fact, even in my monthly trip to the barbershop on Saturday mornings as a child, there would be a row of hair experts in white smocks, looking every bit like an elite corps of trained medical specialists in the smoke-filled, male-dominated strip mall just a couple of doors down from the Ben Franklin five-and-dime.
Memories of great apprehension still surround me as I recall those winters when I would return perhaps six times in four months to receive the dreaded penicillin injection. After anxious moments in the waiting room, a serious-minded man would come in, look sternly at me, mumble something in hushed tones to my mother, and before long the nurse, always a friendly woman with kind eyes and a gentle smile would execute the will of the all-knowing, fearless expert in the White Coat.
Over the years, a widening gap has developed between me and the White Coat. I can think of a number of reasons for this, but as a chronic sufferer who knows only too well why they call us “patients,” I can name one of the big ones. Go back in time with me to a movie I hope you have seen more than once.
The character’s name is Winifred Banks, a “suffragette” working for women’s right to vote. To a rousing tune, she and her fellow-crusaders march around the room and sing, “We’re clearly soldiers in petticoats; Dauntless crusaders for women’s votes. Though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they’re rather stupid….”
Now, I assure you, I think highly of most of my many doctors, but the good will does not carry over to the coat (“as a group”…you see). My uneducated guess is that what has happened to them can happen to all of us when politics, custom and other outside forces restrict the way we do our jobs and perform our role in society: we become less effective as a group than we are as individuals. (By the way, the movie mentioned above was Mary Poppins.)
Why is it that some countries have Prime Ministers (people who minister), others have Presidents (people who preside), and some have both? Ministers are the people that impress me most. (I think Prime Minister Thatcher of Great Britain was the first person I remember quoting the proverb, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” Spoken like a true PM!) That is because long after the presider has snagged, bagged and tagged my medical problem, the minister (nurse, PA, and even a low-level, non-technical administrator) still takes my calls and emails.
As a sufferer from numerous chronic diseases, I have learned to be affable, organized and intelligent in talking to presidents so that their memories of me are vivid, pleasant and undemanding. I do this in hopes that they feel good thinking about me because I suspect that once they have stopped looking at me, I wonder whether they will be thinking of me five minutes from now.
I am overstating the whole thing, of course, but it is unfortunate that they must hustle between patients and I am left with only one shot to think of and ask everything I could wish to know before the next billable encounter.
“Doctor, I nearly fainted today, what should I do? What might it be? Did I just experience an ‘off time’ from the Parkinson’s disease or is it the meds? Can we go out for coffee and have you educate me on how to self-diagnose and what I might anticipate my life to be like now?”
Dialogue about such things is what I crave with my doctors. I wish I could get his or her attention whenever I need it. But who among us has the stamina to treat hundreds of patients with this kind of tender loving care? I understand why it must be that way. I still hate it when something reminds me that life isn’t fair or simple.
There are so many good medical professionals in my world. They make me feel like living when I feel like dying. They don’t have the averted eyes, the somber look or the well-worn words: “Not saying you are imagining things, but the source of your problem is that your mind/brain is making you sick. So I can only treat you for fibromyalgia. Take this for pain and check back next year [read: Please don’t check back until next year because I really don’t know what’s going on with you.]”
No, these solid professionals say things like, “I will stick with you. Are you okay?” Most are good folks who know the old ways of western medicine that I need most when my house is on fire (i.e. things are desperate.)
And then there are the non-mainstreamed variety like the one who said, “Don’t mind those other doctors. You have Chronic Lyme disease. That is not on the public health radar yet. I’ve got your back. Let’s get busy and see what happens.” His treatment worked. Another has said, “I can save you from getting that knee replacement through a relatively inexpensive procedure that insurance won’t cover. Can I pray with you?” Then he proceeded successfully to repair the knee.
All of these people remind me that goodness and decency are far from obsolete. They do take emails and return calls. Some even leave me their cell phone number. Good things do happen. I just wish the White Coat was the uniform for all of those Prime Ministers and innovators too, and that it really did represent all of the best practices and personal attention available today.
All the best, Dear TC.