Posted in Having a Voice in Healthcare, Living with Illness

Medicine and the Human Factor

I was watching the news yesterday when a report about a Southwest Airlines pilot hit the airwaves.  Evidently, the pilot didn’t know that his mic was stuck in the on position and he went on a tirade about the fact that the flight attendants were either gay, old, or fat, leaving him with limited choices for sexual exploits.  It obviously took those on the radio frequency by surprise, but more importantly it raised some eyebrows amongst the Southwest Airlines crews.  So what does this have to do with being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness?

It’s been discussed and written about in multiple books about how physicians refer to patients as “the kidney in room 202”, or “the brain tumor in 202”, reducing you, the patient, to the most minimal of descriptions.  Why is this important?  Because the goal is to have the medical team look at you as the total package, not simply your disease.  There is more to you than simply your diagnosis; the diagnosis is a part of you, it doesn’t define you.  When or if we hear providers speak this way it reduces our faith in them as people.  This is why so many medical schools are starting to incorporate Medical Humanities into their curriculums.  The idea that if you bring some humanity into the medical arena the relationships between physician and patient get better, diagnostics are more accurate because future physicians are being trained to listen to the patient’s story; their illness narrative.

If you haven’t read Jerome Groopman’s, “How Doctor’s Think”, please finish this post and rush to the bookstore for a copy of this book.  If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness this book should be surgically attached to your body so you have it handy at all times.  The introduction shows the importance of the illness narrative because it helped diagnose a young woman who had been battling her illness for over 15 years.

Words are powerful so using them to improve the doctor-patient relationship instead of hinder it is crucial on your journey to health and healing.  As your illness narrative unfurls it provides vital information for your care and treatment.  The doctor should be more of a detective then mechanic.

What would you like your medical provider to know about you?  How do you think your story could help in your care and treatment?  What have you been leaving out of your story when you visit the doctor, that could be the linchpin that makes you better or well?

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