I generally enjoy seeing all of my patients as most of them are very nice people, but there was one patient that I had that I didn’t want to see. I was doing a procedure called scaling and root planing, or sometimes more commonly known as a deep cleaning, and also giving him tips on how to improve his oral hygiene. This is very important for patients who are getting SRPs because without improved home care, the oral health situation will not change and they will eventually need to come back for another SRP. This patient however, was very uninterested in learning about how to improve his oral hygiene, and even when the faculty was trying to explain to him why he needed to brush better and stop smoking, he seemed annoyed we were taking up his time. I saw him 2 more times after the first to finish up all of the SRPs, and afterwards he immediately asked when he could get his bridge done. At the school, we have policies in place to make sure any work we do has a good chance of lasting, so before we start working on more intense restorations like bridges, we make sure that the patient’s oral health is acceptable. That is why after SRPs are done the patient has to be re-evalauted in 4-6 weeks to see if there is improvement in home care before any other procedures are done. This patient was frustrated he had to wait, but I also felt that he didn’t not try to understand why from our perspective, and thought that he could just come to the dental school and get cheap dental work done.
I responded by informing him about the school procedures and why they were in place, and tried to be as professional as possible. Everything was fine but it was frustrating to have a patient who was so uninterested and closed off to trying to improve his own health. It’s hard for me to justify putting in effort to help someone if they’re not willing to try to help themselves, but I understand that is the reality of the world.
A Doctor’s Life
“You doctors’ think you’re Gods…”
I had gotten as far as an introduction before he’d made his claim. He had already met five of my kind, hating four and being indifferent to one. Admittedly she’d given him the analgesia the night before. But he was in pain again, and this time I stood in the firing line. Major surgery always has a difficult recovery period, and this was no different. I remained quiet.
“None of you care. Rich kids born into rich lives…”
My silence endured, allowing him the space to vent to his hearts content. A heart clearly yearning for empathy. In truth, I understood him; a man feeling lost in the large cogwheels of the hospital infrastructure already caring for over a thousand patients, a number steadily growing by the minute. The difficulty in this situation was he didn’t understand me.
Rich kid? I was born into a Council estate some thirty years ago, sheltered from whatever happened outside by the warmth of two loving parents. That shelter led me to the belief that George Clooney, Noah Wyle and ER were representative of medical care internationally. Grey’s Anatomy had yet to be conceived for the younger generation. That’s how my love of medicine started, but not too long later at medical school I understood the purpose of our profession.
The bright lights show pioneering surgery, medical advancement and superhuman feats from superhuman workers. But that was typically a tiny fragment of our workload. Our job is humanity. Understanding, contemplating and subsequently providing the best care we could. The best option to make lives just that little bit better. Our job is co-ordinating to produce a multi-faceted, multi-functional approach. Our job is to listen.
And therefore, I listened. I listened to his sadness and fears. I listened to his woes and worries. By the end, I understood he was simply a man afraid of the unknown, and tired from his own complaints. I sat beside him and begun to explain, firstly the stresses and stretches of the hospital, before proceeding to the nature of his surgery and the recovery period. This is what he wanted the most – time. Something free to provide, and yet hoarded by most. We addressed all of his questions together, coming up with a plan we were both happy with.
At the end he apologised, and I walked away smiling. I laughed thinking this scene would never air on any medical drama, and yet this was the entire meaning of medicine.