Wednesday, June 8, 2011

From doctor to daughter...and back again

I suspect that most physicians have, at some point in their training, heard the following phrase:

"Treat the patient like she's your mother."
Or, this variation: "Remember that every patient is somebody's mother."

Well, this past week, it was my mother.

I always thought that these phrases were intended to remind us of the individual humanity of our patients.  Especially on busy and overwhelming days, it's not difficult for Mrs. Smith to become "the COPD-er in 627."  These phrases also seem to echo the golden rule ("do unto others' mothers as you'd like others to do unto your mother").

But after sleeping on the floor of my mother's hospital room for four nights and interacting with her many caregivers, these phrases have a new hollowness for me.  I'm sorry, but even the most conscientious, compassionate, and caring health professionals cannot care for my mother as if she was their mother.  She's not.

My mother's caregivers were kind, thoughtful, and available, and the medical care that she received was excellent.  (Believe me, as a physician-daughter I was watching!)   But her family supported her emotional and physical needs in ways that no one outside of her family network could.

Yes, our patients deserve humane and compassionate care.  Yes, it's important for us to get to know our patients.  And, yes, all of the patients under my care are somebody else's mother, father, daughter, son - but they aren't mine.  I see now that pretending that they are is utterly impossible and that being the best doctor I can be is good enough.  I will leave the daughter-ing to the daughters and the mother-ing to the mothers.

After all, doctor-ing is hard enough on its own.

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