Patience, young Grasshopper...

Dec 23 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

"How are you feeling this morning Mr. Namnezia?"

"That's fucking Dr. Namnezia to you, you little intern. And I would be feeling better if you hadn't fucking burst into my room without knocking and turned on the light and scared the shit out of me."

"Oh, sorry about that Mr. Namnezia. Are you in any pain this morning?"

"Look you little fuck with your little suit and tie, none of the other interns wear suits, they wear scrubs, and at least express some sort of sign of humanity when dealing with patients. Why are you wearing a suit? You remind me of all those over eager premeds I teach everyday. Maybe you can spend some time developing some real bedside manner rather than the fake concern and "professionalism" you are expressing now."

"Are your bowel movements OK?"

"Fuck you!"

And the worst thing about all of this, is that despite me wanting to say all this, I didn't. I just answered his questions obediently, let him listen to my insides and let him off, with his smug sense of authority. This is one of the hardest things I've had to deal with in being a patient, basically becoming an object, a body to be treated and not a person. Having spent last week in the hospital (I'm home now) really took a lot out of me, both physically and mentally. After a week of not walking or eating much I am ridiculously skinny/weak and my body does not feel like mine. During my stay I was visited by a slew of hospital doctors, and every time I would have to explain my whole situation as they poked and prodded me during every shift change. Plus of course nurses coming in  and out to give you medication, silence your beeping I/V pump, take your vitals, draw blood, etc. And in all of this the stress of making sure things stayed clean and that nobody made any mistakes. The whole thing is very dehumanizing. Not just being in the hospital, but being a patient in general.

In the 1960's French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote in "The Birth of the Clinic" about the emergence of the "medical gaze" in the medical profession since the late 18th century. The idea being that a doctor cannot look at a patient as a whole person, but rather as a body, with a bunch of symptoms. Now, I have to admit that the only reason I've read Foucault is due to my undergraduate institution's penchant for adding obscure poststructuralist philosophy to pretty much any class. I also have to admit that I can only can makes sense of about half of a things Foucault says. But after being in the hospital, his point becomes incredibly clear. It is a dehumanizing experience.

So what is there to do? Ever since I got sick I've been approached with offers of complementary medicine – Reiki and such. They say these are for the mind, conventional medicine is for the body. But why? Why do I need someone reorganizing some energy forces or whatever to make me feel more human? Why can't regular medicine be for both? Why can't it be more human? And I really think that the solution is simple – it's called good bedside manner, listening to patients and treating them well and like equals. That's it. But I found this lacking in so many doctors.

That's not to say all doctors are like this. We were fortunate enough to find a doctor who really takes his time to answer all of our questions (between my wife, brother and I being scientists, believe me, we've put him through the ringer) thoroughly and intelligently, has been great at helping us get second and even third opinions, facilitating medical literature and just overall caring. He welcomes emails with questions and checks in at random times to see how I'm doing. Likewise, in the hospital there were a handful of nurses that you could tell went above and beyond to provide good care and look after your best interests. So medicine need not be so dehumanizing, it just takes someone to care and listen to make a huge difference.

One thing I've learned about this is that in order to make my body mine again, I'm going to have to put up with being poked and prodded for a while, but hopefully, little by little I can reclaim myself again. That slowly I will fatten back up and regain my strength and feel like me again. But for now the most important thing is to maintain perseverance, strength and most importantly patience. And to stay out of fucking New Jersey…

11 responses so far

  • PalMD says:

    my body does not feel like mine

    I found that particularly moving, important, something..

  • juniorprof says:

    I also found this very moving, for many reasons... thanks for sharing. I hope you get better soon, and hang in there!!

  • Glad they broke you out of the klink, enjoy your holidays and get well man.

  • Odyssey says:

    I have had the great fortune of never having been confined to hospital, but my wife has on a couple of occasions (not counting giving birth to three children). Your experience mirrors hers. I've always believed the best way to fight woo is to bring real human interactions back into medicine. The number of MD's I've met with decent bedside manners is pitifully small.

    Get well Nam. I miss giving you shit for the bad jokes.

  • Liz Ditz says:

    Thinking about the Namnezia family & wishing you complete recovery & abundant health in the coming year.

  • Dan J says:

    I can definitely commiserate. I connected with my oncologist because she happened to be on call when I was admitted to the hospital (before the actual diagnosis). She's wonderful. She laughs at my jokes. She smiles when I tell her how good I feel. I couldn't ask for better. Not once has any "complementary" therapy been mentioned, and I'm quite thankful for that.

    My first month or so after being in the hospital (for a week) was interesting. I found that I was unable to "hurry" across a street. My legs simply wouldn't do it. That was probably the scariest thing from my whole cancer experience, to be honest. I was more afraid of traffic than of cancer. I guess I still am.

  • Zuska says:

    The whole thing is very dehumanizing. Not just being in the hospital, but being a patient in general.

    Yeah. This is my experience, too. Being a patient makes you a supplicant, dependent upon others, even when they are jerkwads, and it makes you frightened, and it makes you needy. On top of the being ill and weak. You lose a part of your voice, and you can't advocate for yourself the way you would advocate for a friend or family member suffering in the same way you are. The flimsy gown coverings, having your most intimate bodily processes discussed out loud as clinical functions, being poked and prodded everywhere by strangers at random unannounced times, disrupted sleep. The whole sense that your body has gone into rebellion against you. There you were, minding your own business and living your life, and blam! you're a patient. And nobody cares who the fuck you were before you got sick. Now you're just x-yr-old male/female presents with [fill in the blank].

  • Dr. O says:

    Only hospital visit that I can remember was giving birth, and it was similar in many ways. The good nurses were rare, so I was grateful for them. And the doctors were so cold and businesslike at times, it made me feel so damn small. It almost made me want to avoid modern medicine for my next pregnancy. But I'd definitely settle for it being done better.

    Take care of yourself and get some rest, now that you're home and don't people barging in every time you find your sleepy place!

  • Thinking of you and hoping you feel like yourself again soon.

    xoxo CE

  • David/Abel says:

    Hey, brother! Thinking good thoughts for you and Supercool Wife. I'm from Jersey and my mother was diagnosed with cancer in Jersey. Fuck motherfucking Jersey. However, she is a 26-year survivor.

    While I lack your personal experience, I am certain that being home is an immense relief. But don't hold back on the intern next time - you're a professor and they need the "learning experience."

    Be well.

  • scicurious says:

    Thinking of you, man. Don't let the bad bedside manners get you down.

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