Posts Tagged ‘doctor

20
Jun
20

This Side of the Desk

When Breath Becomes AirI just finished reading the book When Breath Becomes Air.

I am still drying my eyes.

It is the story of a brilliant, gifted neurosurgeon named Paul Kalanithi. Kalanithi seems to be on his way to an illustrious career as that rarest of medical hybrids, a surgeon/scientist. He is married to his med school sweetheart and they are preparing to conceive their first child. His world is suddenly blown to bits when he receives a diagnosis of terminal cancer at the age of 36… just as he is preparing to graduate from his residency program.

Oh yeah… did I mention that it is an autobiography? Kalanithi wrote it himself… as he was in the process of dying.

Watching him navigate the transition from doctor to patient – while remaining fully a doctor – is one of the more intriguing storylines in the book. Midway through his cancer treatment, Kalanithi says that his experience with the disease has helped him realize that, “… the physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”

If I didn’t know better I’d say he was describing the work of a pastor!

Kalanithi regularly expresses amazement at the way it has been possible for him to know volumes of information ABOUT the body and its diseases without truly grasping the full weight of their impact on the real people he serves as a doctor.

Until suddenly, he finds himself sitting on the other side of the desk.

Today I am trying turn up the dial on my education about the lifelong challenges faced by African Americans. I am reading books, I am talking to people, I am watching movies and documentaries, I am thinking quietly, and I am praying. Please understand… I tick off this list with a sense of embarrassment, not pride. This is all work I should have been doing a long, long time ago.

And believe me, it helps. Ava Duvernay’s powerful documentary, 13th (referring to the 13th amendment to the constitution outlawing slavery) opened my eyes to things I was painfully naïve about. She taught me, for example, about the wide disparity in the legal penalties for possession of crack cocaine (a low-cost, smokable form of the drug, favored in inner-city settings) and powdered cocaine – used almost exclusively by white suburbanites.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg of eye-openers and gut-punchers in store for those who choose to tune in.

Unlike Dr. Kalanithi, however, I will never be visited with the opportunity to suddenly find myself sitting on the other side of the desk… eyes finally opened… perspective finally focused and accurate. I will always only be who I am; the lifelong recipient of a host of benefits derived from a playing field tilted severely in my favor.

But does that deficit mean I can’t be an effective ally to the cause? No. It just means I will never be black.

What it does mean is I will need to work even harder to educate myself… and never stop educating myself. It means I need to take people at their word when they relate their experiences of encountering systemic racism. It means I need to actively use some of my privilege and advantage to advance the cause of justice… not just to make my world more comfortable.

It means I need to redouble my efforts to listen to and follow the advice of the prophet Micah who said, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NRSV).

 

Abundant blessings;

24
Sep
19

The real emergency

Me in the ERSettling in, I was struck by how quiet and calm it all was.

For a room whose first name is EMERGENCY, I had visions of wailing sirens, screaming people, racing doctors, and slippery pools of blood on the floor, visions, no doubt fueled by TV and movies.

Instead, I saw a slightly built Hispanic couple huddled together on a couch, the man tenderly holding the woman’s arm. Over here to their left was an older woman sitting quietly in a wheelchair, searching without success for something in her purse. A young man – whose name I found out later when they paged him was Nathaniel – sat with a worried expression on his face, all alone.

People came in the automatic, sliding glass doors and calmly approached the reception desk. They explained the reason for their visit, filled out a brief form, and took the next available seat… preparing to wait for however long it took.

The doctors, nurses, and assorted hospital helpers ran the demeanor gamut from professionally concerned and solicitous, to utterly bored, to flippant and jokey, depending on the patient. I am sure it helps contain the anxiety of the help-seekers to see their rescuers taking a firm hold of the rudder of the ER, succumbing to neither fear nor frustration in the face of pain and illness.

I had checked into the ER ten minutes earlier, hopeful they would approve my application for patient status. In the fifth inning of my old man softball game earlier that evening, an inadequately stretched out hamstring felled me as I barreled down the first base line. I landed full on my elbow, jamming my upper arm up into my shoulder joint.

It hurt like the dickens, but the diagnosis – after an exam and X-rays – was a “first degree (the mildest variety) shoulder separation.” The recommended treatment plan is a sling and ibuprofen for a week.

So the softball season has come to an early end for me. Not that I actually contributed that much to our team’s success you understand. But it was always a good time on Monday nights to hang with the guys and pretend to have some athletic ability for an hour or two.

But this isn’t really about my shoulder injury and me. I’ll be fine. I have a wonderful wife to help me out and a good constitution to ensure swift healing.

It is really about my fellow ER occupants and their stories. Who are they? Where do they live? What happened that led to them being here tonight? How are they going to respond?

When I commented to one of the nurses that it seemed very busy that night she replied, “Oh you know… it’s a Monday. The weekend is done and it’s after dinner, so now is the time to come into the ER,” which struck me as both surprisingly callous but also a little bit insightful.

Her off-hand comment showed me one of the nagging realities of health care in this country today. People use the emergency room as their doctor. They don’t have health insurance – for whatever reason – and as a result, don’t seek out the routine care of a physician. They wait until something gets really serious and scary and then head to the ER. Emergency room docs are ethically bound to see and treat everyone who walks in, insurance or not.

Questions are asked, tests are done, X-rays are taken, treatments are prescribed, and bills are sent equally to everyone. Some get paid, many don’t. The latest figures show that more than 2/3 of the personal bankruptcies in the U.S. today are due to the crushing load of health care costs.

It caused me to stop and realize; while we were in the same place at the same time last night, most of the others in the emergency room lived in a VERY different healthcare universe than the one Joan and I occupy.

Today, as I pop my ibuprofen and try to type with this sling on my arm, I will be thinking about my friends from the ER. I will wonder how last night turned out for them. I will wonder if they will be back again tonight with a different complaint. I will speculate about how high their healthcare-related debt is.

But then, sadly, I will probably move on with my life and continue not thinking about them, just like I did before.

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”(Matthew 25:40, NRSV).




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