“Doctors pour drugs of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less into human beings of whom they know nothing.” Voltaire (1694-1778)
The practice of the medical professions in 2017 in the United States is costly, impersonal and discouraging. Rife with inequity, perhaps it is merely a reflection of a culture that celebrates those who are successful and barely accords empathy and compassion for those who are regarded as undeserving Others. Although scientific knowledge has charged forward, I question whether the quality of life for the majority has risen. More technology, toys and diversions leave too much of life unexamined.
In the 19th century, Dostoevsky documented his experience as a prisoner in Siberia in his novel, The House of the Dead. He wrote glowingly of the emergence of the new medical doctors who served in the prison hospital. He described how the mistrust of those pioneering doctors was quickly overcome by the kindness and caring that the physicians brought to their relationships with the inmates. Dostoevsky recognized what we are re-discovering – that it is the relationship between doctor and patient that is at the core of healing.
A few days ago I found an old book of mine, Dissent in Medicine: Nine Doctors Speak Out. The book was published in 1985. In it, prominent physicians were lamenting the demise of the doctor-patient relationship. For many years I along with many others have been critical of how psychiatry is practiced. Dissent in Medicine affirmed for me that dismissing or even ignoring the essential wholeness of patients was not a practice limited to psychiatry.
One of the nine authors, Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, declared, “I have long felt that medicine is a religion” and considered himself to be a medical heretic.
In the book’s introduction, he writes about learning in medical school the catechism of the Religion of Modern Medicine. He describes it as follows;–“When asked a question by a patient, the proper response is ‘Just trust me,’ or to a female patient, ‘Just trust me Dear.’ When faced with a patient who offers information different from what you gave him, the proper response is – ‘What medical school did you go to?’ When faced with an older person – ‘What do you expect at your age?’ When trying to sell a hysterectomy—‘What do you need your uterus for? It’s just a sack for cancer.’ Or—‘We’re taking out the baby carriage but leaving in the playpen.’” Dr. Mendelsohn’s explains: “Doctors have strange ways of thinking. The impact of medical education is so powerful that we doctors develop different thinking patterns from the rest of the population.”
With the introduction of the internet and google, we now can find resources about our health and how to be proactive. Yet it remains my hope that in our future, the value of relationships will be integral and primary in all of our healing endeavors.
I refuse to be discouraged.