Thursday, December 8, 2011

Turning Tables

Dr. Borak's voice was uncharacteristically timid. The authoritative lull and crisp enunciation had receded into a awkward bucket of uncertain phrases. For a moment, I felt as if I was back in grade school discussing the object of his affection.

Did you talk to her? What did she say?

I could feel the intensity through the phone as if the mouth piece had arched upward and was staring me dead in the eye. I felt bad for poor Borak. He suffered greatly the last few months. Although he was dropped from the malpractice suit, the scars brought on by years of finger pointing remained.

Then, there was the dispute with hospital administration. When they formed their own oncology group, Borak's referrals dropped significantly. His years of experience and relationship building couldn't stem the tide of inevitable change.

It was not an opportune time to be part of the old guard.


It wasn't particularly notable when Borak's patient asked for a new oncologist. She had visited him once and felt like there was no connection. Hell, people left me all the time! So I offered up a few names and thought nothing of it.

When Borak called to discuss the situation, I was caught completely off guard. I stammered as I tried to explain why I had given her other names. It wasn't the accusatory nature of his questioning that rocked me off balance, it was the hurt and uncertainty in his voice.

Borak was fighting for his professional life, and apparently he was losing ground quickly.

My discussion with the wayward patient was unfruitful.

We just didn't click.

When I reported back to Borak, his anger had receded. With sad recognition he accepted the fact that he lost another patient. He always considered the grim reaper to be his greatest opponent, not his fellow colleagues.


Most people become physicians because they feel a calling to help their fellow human beings. For better or worse, doctors are also driven by their own primal wish to be needed.

Our perfectionism, our selflessness, and our ability to waltz in the room and save the day are all self created concepts. They justify our actions.

Rejection, to someone who has spent their whole life learning how to be needed, is a bitter pill to swallow.

In all fairness, I am very aware of how the actions and words of a physician can evoke pain and hurt in his client.

But I wonder if patients realize that they haven't cornered the market on suffering. Do they know that behind the emotionless facade, doctors are soft and pliant on the inside?

Sadness, fear, and rejection are another part of our daily existence.

And it hurts us just the same.

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