Are you a doctor with a scientific approach? Or a healer who offers hope and solace? Or both? How do you strike a balance?
Last week, one of my friends brought her 89-year-old grandmother to my clinic. She had complaints that warranted invasive investigations. She came across as a strong woman and made it clear to me that she had no intentions to get admitted into a hospital either for testing or for treatment! Whenever such a patient walks through the door, I tend to change my hat from being a doctor to a healer!
A healer is a person who seeks to cure diseases by means other than conventional medical treatment.
I am a doctor trained to use the scientific approach to dissect clinical problems systematically, look at the evidence-base, to arrive at the best available treatment options. But every now and then, there comes a patient when you need to step back and glimpse at the human being rather than the problem or disease.
Clinical practice is not all science; equally important is the art of medicine. Just as a musician creates a beautiful experience, we try our best to create an experience amidst disease and pain. This experience may not be enjoyable, but we are satisfied if it is soothing to the patient and family. It is a difficult task, but not an impossible one. Just as each artist expresses her own personality and being in her creation, each clinician by his approach, creates a unique patient’s experience.
How should we approach such patients? These are grey areas in clinical practice, and you cannot find answers to this question in textbooks or scientific journals. It is learnt from mentors and from careful observation of innumerable human conditions. In our practice we are privileged to witness the emotional upheavals, insecurity of life and the certainty of death. In and through all these, we learn the art of listening, appreciation of inner fears, and sharpen our “soft skills”, ever careful not to abandon the process of scientific inquiry.
I am not for a moment suggesting that doctors become wayside dealers peddling false hopes and magical cures; but as clinicians we should strive to create a magical experience with a sympathetic heart and an empathetic approach to be true companions for our patients in their journey through disease and suffering.