Thursday, August 17, 2006

Making friends with your patients

I had a bad start to the day today. My computer was messing up and my son just suddenly flew off the handle with my wife. Things just seemed to be conspiring to make me irritated. Then the first few patients of the day this morning were folks I had taken care of for the better part of 12 years. They are both diabetics with whom I have gone through a lot in their lives. I have to say, it was good to see both of them and it really picked up my spirits.

As a doctor, you have to stay a certain distance from your patience emotionally. If you get to close you start to lose the objectivity that they are coming to you for. You have to be able to look for bad stuff in people you like (I just diagnosed a woman this morning with metastatic cancer in her back). Yet I have found that this line gets more and more fuzzy as you practice for more time. You definitely enjoy the company of some of your patients. It is very satisfying to feel that you have been a significant part of their life, and a positive one at that. Maybe I am just getting more sentimental as I grow older (which I definitely am), but I am enjoying this aspect to my practice more and more.

I have gotten so that I routinely hug my little old ladies at the end of the visit (the ones I have seen for a while) and it really brightens their faces. The physical touch that is not "professional" but instead one of genuine affection/friendship is very well received. I think it aids in the healing process. The same is true for playing with the children. I have this thing where I pick up their arm and say, "Uh,oh, what is that there?" and I start tickling them under the arm. This makes them appreciate coming to the doctor more and hence more willing to trust me. Plus, it is just plain fun.

Of course, their are limits to this. I don't hug anyone under 55 and don't tickle anyone over 10. What is funny or nice in one situation can get you arrested in another. But I am not sure I would want to practice if I did not have the chance to have this personal relationship with my patients. It is often therapeutic for me as well.