On Thursday, Inquisitr writer Patricia Didelot reported about a Reddit user’s viral photo post showing an ER doctor taking a moment to regain composure after losing a 19-year-old patient.
ER Doctor Is Devastated, Needs A Moment After 19 Year Old Patient Dies [Photo] – The Inquisitr http://t.co/fGwa9vxquT
— Health News (@HealthNews21) March 20, 2015
The Reddit photo went viral so quickly. Why?
I don’t personally remember when doctors made house calls. Born in the late 1970s, I’m not quite old enough for that doctor-ly practice to be normal. Still, several years ago, I was in the hospital, and my own family doctor stopped in to look at my file and check up on me, off the clock. I wasn’t billed for the call. He was clearly and visibly worried about me, though I don’t know what ran through his head when he was alone.
Today, most media coverage focuses on the atrocities or arguable decisions that doctors make. The humanity of doctors, which exists in presumably every hospital in the country, is rarely seen in our newsfeeds.
Today, many doctors and patients are arguing over polarized issues like mandatory vaccination versus health freedom, or pharmaceutical treatment of diseases versus natural treatment of diseases. Debates about health issues are increasingly heated, and politics only add fuel to the blaze. Social media has gotten to a point where doctors are dehumanized by someone, either for speaking out against the norm or speaking out in favor of mainstream medicine, depending on our personal viewpoint. People read about rare purposeful atrocities committed by doctors in the news, and the profession takes yet another hit-point in the realm of public opinion. Meanwhile, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are almost a million practicing physicians in the United States. I can’t help but feel like doctors around the globe are taking the heat for the actions of a fraction of their peers in their field.
In a blog post in the Times Union, Dr. Marianne DiNapoli, while still a med student, asked, “Do you want a doctor who cries?” Overwhelmingly, the readers seemed to favor seeing the human side of doctors’ emotions. That’s great, but let’s put ourselves in their shoes for a minute.
On the medical blog Kevin MD, Dr. Jordan Grumet explained the perspective of grief from the utterly human side of a seasoned doctor.
“I have been crying a lot lately. At weddings, during movies, or while watching television, it’s something that has grown exponentially over the years. The barriers of my heart have become weak and the tide crashes into the breakers and spills shockingly on the barren land below.
“I have lost control. And I know exactly why.
“It’s just that I see so many awful things. My daily menu consists of death and destruction with a healthy serving of sadness on the side. I swallow these whole, rarely having the time or energy to chew properly. Yet all that is pushed down must eventually be digested. I no longer mourn, for after all these years mourning would have morphed from a hobby to a full time profession. I neither grit my teeth nor curse a deity that often seems indifferent to the suffering of us poor plodding humans.
“Instead I cry. When it’s safe. When the joy becomes overwhelming.”
Maybe, we should avoid assuming that doctors are somehow absent of heart simply because we actually bear witness to it so rarely that photographic evidence of a human doctor’s actual humanity turns viral within hours. Doctors are still human beings, even if we never see them cry.
Most doctors are not like Farid Fata, the prominent Michigan doctor who knowingly gave chemotherapy to people when it was “not medically necessary,” any more than most volunteer firefighters are like the one who bragged on Facebook about shooting two dogs. On the contrary, as Jon Stone, author of the article featured in The Independent about the Reddit thread, stated, “In the comments under the image medical professionals came out of the woodwork and recounted personal stories evoked by the haunting image.”
In a U.S. News & World Report article, physician and behavioral scientist Dr. Peter Ubel was quoted as saying, “We can’t live our professional lives in a state of high emotion. A survival instinct kicks in as a doctor. You have to become a little bit hardened.” Dr. Barron Lerner explained that doctors need to adhere to a level of professionalism in which they are able to handle the most emotional situations in a “dispassionate manner.” Most doctors, from these accounts, try hard not to burden their patients with their humanity.
Some patients die. As a doctor I have to live with this inevitable fact | Ranjana Srivastava http://t.co/rnIGqRRGbr
— The Guardian (@guardian) March 20, 2015
In a New York Times article, Dr. Hiram S. Cody III explained to the reporter at that time that his job as a doctor “is not to be emotional and/or cry with” patients, in part, because breaking down is generally not therapeutic for patients. Who knows what causes that rare doctor to go down the path of Farid Fata, but it is presumably not much different than what would cause a couple of executives at a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary to allow tainted Tylenol to be given to infants, sugar industry execs to try to buy influence within public health policy, or a hospice COO to put non-terminally ill adults into comfort-only care. In response to the Farid Fata chemotherapy scandal, a shocking proportion of comments included sentiments like, “All doctors do this, they just usually don’t get caught.”
But tell me, can you actually look at the image of the emergency room doctor breaking down over the loss of a young adult patient and believe that all doctors lack the empathetic side of themselves that is associated with our humanity? I am told that I am so lucky to have found a doctor who would visit my bedside while he was off duty. Rarely do people admit that there are others like him all over the globe. When surveyed, we claim that we want doctors to treat us less like patients and more like people, but how often are we patients willing to realize that our doctors are also human?
[Feature image via Reddit]