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Care That Moves You

Sep 3 2015
Is the grass greener? Life on the other side of the curtain

“The grass is always greener on the other side.”  We have all heard that before, regarding many different situations.  Sometimes people take the leap and embark on a major life change to take the chance and see if it is true.  People move, change jobs, change friends, buy expensive things, because life is about the pursuit of happiness, whatever it takes to get there.

Despite this, I would be willing to wager that most physicians and surgeons don’t consider the grass to be greener on the other side of their profession.  We all know that being a patient, whether it’s something as simple as the common cold, or something as terrible as cancer, nobody wants to be a patient.  This is where bedside manner plays such an important role in medicine.  Empathy is the psychological identification with, or vicarious experiencing of, the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.  A principal trait a physician requires for good bedside manner, to connect with patients, and deliver better care.  Many physicians are smart, talented, and skillful, but the best are those that have the innate ability to empathize with their patients.  How to we gain this ability?  Are we born with it?  Do we learn it?  Who knows?  But we all know that not all of us have it, or sometimes it doesn’t show in every patient encounter, for whatever reason.

Certainly one way a physician can gain the ability to empathize, and share the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of their patients, is to experience being a patient themselves.  Some of us have spent time on the “other side of the curtain” and some of us haven’t.  Some of us have spent that time before becoming physicians, and some of us after, but I would be willing to bet that no physician ever thinks “the grass is greener on the other side of the curtain.”

As a youngster I spent some time on the other side of the curtain, as a patient broken arm, sprained ankles, minor surgeries, and etcetera.  I will attest that I was frightened every time.  Also, as a physician I have spent time on the other side of the curtain with family members dealing with much worse, again frightened, saddened, yet keeping that to myself to be strong for those involved.  I know that all of these experiences have shaped who I am and have hopefully improved my ability to empathize and be a better doctor.

As we live and age there will undoubtedly be something that lands us in our doctors’ office, the hospital, or the operating room.  Most of the time we won’t be expecting it and we will likely have some feelings of fear, uncertainty, sadness, pain, and etcetera.  I can tell you for sure that I wasn’t expecting it recently as I was doing a backflip into a pool and certainly wasn’t doing a backflip to find out if the grass is greener on the other side.  Simply just trying to cool off on a hot day and make my kids laugh at the same time.  


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