Monday, December 1, 2008

Angry Doctors

Dante's Hell (Botticelli)

There's a piece in the NY Times about angry, abusive doctors. Although it's getting better, there are, evidently, a considerable number of instances of what's called medical road rage, and medical errors, sometimes fatal, often result. I scanned the article which I ruefully admit is sort of like fuel to fire for me (I love to bash a doctor, you know) and found this at the end:

"Experts say the leading offenders are specialists in high-pressure fields like neurosurgery, orthopedics and cardiology."

I went to a consult, once, with a friend who had to decide whether or not to have this very famous brain surgeon operate on her child's brain. At some point during the surreal meeting, we asked the esteemed doctor what the risks were. He very casually said, "Well, I've done about five hundred or so of these surgeries and have only had two kids dead on the table." Dead on the table sort of hung there and while my friend, who was new to it all, just sat and thought God knows what, I wondered whether neurosurgeons should be allowed to use the word "kid" for one and "dead on the table" seemed like a phrase that shouldn't occur at all. It felt abusive, actually, and while the article I've quoted from talks about stress-related arrogance and such, I'm wondering what it is about the field of neurology that attracts so many... well, assholes.

I'm happy for people who have stories of miracles wrought or who, through the plain hard work and ingenuity of their doctors battle illnesses successfully. But I admit to feeling bad, too, when I hear of the miracles of modern medicine. Because it's not happening for us, for Sophie, for the kids like her. I realize it's sort of a defense mechanism to blame the doctors. I know that I am transparent psychologically in this respect.

I wonder if there's a divine plan at work here: high-pressure neurological illnesses like epilepsy demand a certain kind of parent(often angry and frustrated)who in turn demand a certain kind of doctor (angry and abusive). Maybe that just goes round and round or is a certain level in Dante's hell. Just a thought.


  1. The level of compassion and bedside manner with doctors seems to be directly proportionate to how many choices patients have. Primary care doctors, gynecologists, allergists and other non-specialists all seem to be incredibly accommodating these days and I think it's because it's very easy to switch to someone else.

    Specialists are typically seeing patients who are more inclined to be anxious or desperate for answers, and they appear to have less competition and sicker, more strung out patients to deal with.

    A couple of years ago, my allergist referred me to a neurologist for a migraine diagnosis. I actually felt guilty going. The neurologist made the simple diagnosis and several weeks later she seemed especially happy to know that the drugs she'd prescribed had cut my migraines down significantly.

    I realized she was treating a lot of MS patients and people with conditions that she can't do much for.

    I can't imagine how frustrating and exhausting it must be to have a child that no specialist seems to be able to help. I imagine there must be doctors who specialize in fields where the success rate for diagnosis and treatment is not very high. I imagine that it is difficult to stay with it and continue to witness suffering and not be able to remedy it. I haven't read the article, but your image of a level of Dante's hell seems apt.

    So I had to page back and look at the photo of your father and Sophie and then I felt bad because I wanted to see a bright side when I don't really know any side.

    Don't listen to me. I'll stop talking now. xo

  2. Maybe we've lost somethings in this modern age and all our so-called knowledge. Like respect and dignity.

  3. You know, the day Robert started having all of his strange symptoms, the day his brain really started breaking down, I drove him to his pediatric clinic (which is located in a hospital) and I comforted myself by thinking that I was taking him to the doctor and they would know what was wrong and they would tell me.

    That was the last time I had that thought. I never look to doctors for answers anymore. I just look to them for guidance or information. They do know stuff, but they really don't have answers. So I figure I'm seeing someone I can get along with if they say to me in some way, shape, or form that they don't know everything. If I'm in a doctor's office and he or she starts acting like they know everything and have all the answers, we don't go back. I have actually told doctors like that, to their faces, that they are misguided and in none too polite language.

    The best doctors give guidance, kind of like a minister or a priest. Those are the only ones I trust.

  4. I scrolled down to leave a comment about the abundant universe speaking to you from your Trader Joe's produce bag, but got sidetracked by this You MIght Like: Angry Doctors post.

    I don't think it is a divine plan - the angry doctor, angry mom samsara. I think maybe: physicians' academic success leads to hubris, hubris leads to not listening to others, and not listening creates angry mothers.

    When an unknown doctor walks into my daughter's hospital room, I always am reminded of the Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz. In my mind, I am thinking, Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...