Thursday, April 26, 2012

Whose Team Are You On?

It couldn't have been worse. The complaints in the office were unsolvable. The regulars came late to their appointments. The "oh, by the way doctor" questions required more then cursory explanations offered from the doorway. I sat down during a stolen moment for lunch only to be harassed by a call from the emergency department that needed urgent attention.

It was the kind of day where office visits were interrupted by mobile phone calls that were interrupted by a beeping pager. By the end of clinic, I was ready to hang up my stethoscope. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. These were the times that tested one's will to be a physician.

As I crawled into my car for the drive home, my phone started to ring. I read the display before picking up. It was another call from the nursing home. Mr. G was being admitted after a prolonged hospitalization. I remembered Mr. G well.

I took care of him a few years ago after a hip replacement. He had been assigned to my case load because his primary care doctor didn't come to the facility. He was a large, gruff, strapping sixty year old at the time. After a few weeks, he fired me because I refused to give him an antibiotic for a mild respiratory infection.

One moment I was in charge of his care, the next I wasn't allowed into his room. I have forgotten many of the hundreds of patients I have taken care of in nursing homes over the years, but I'll always remember the faces of those who have fired me. I still take it personally.

Although I was itching to get home, I pulled into the parking lot a few minutes later. I suspected Mr. G would take one look at me and remember our colored history. I braced for a confrontation.

When I walked into his room, I couldn't have been more surprised. Mr. G was a shadow of the man he used to be. His face was drawn, and his frail body rested listlessly on the hospital bed. His dialysis catheter was taped neatly on his chest wall.

He didn't even remember me.

When I finished questioning, I silently examined Mr. G. How much had changed over the last few years. Although I entered the room like a lion, I left like a lamb. After seeing him, I couldn't help but wonder when the doctor-patient relationship became a confrontational one.  We have so much in common.

We both agonize over the limitations of the human body. We suffer with life's unexpected turns. And we face our own limitations every day while gazing in the mirror.

Maybe it's time to allow humility to remind us,

we're playing for the same team.

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