“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?”
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…