Sunday, 24 June 2012

Doctors as patients

Andrew Drain was 33 year old high flying cardio-thoracic surgeon in training who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia September 2007. He died peacefully at home July 2010.

In a wonderfully moving book (Code Red) in which are published some sermons which he preached from the Old Testament book of Job, he briefly reflects at the end of the book, how he might have practiced differently as a doctor if he had survived his illness, in the light of his journey as a terminally ill patient.

Three lessons for busy doctors

1. Never forget a patient's dignity: Curtains around a hospital bed are not soundproof. It's very difficult to have confidential conversations with loved ones in an open ward. Leaving urine samples next to a patients bed may be amusing to good friends, but is a source of embarassment  with less close visitors. There are so many situations when we doctors can forget the essential dignity of each human being.

2. Patients hang on to every word the doctor says: 'As a doctor I can't remember how many times I would have told patients casually that we would get a chest X-ray or a scan. For me the day continued as normal. I now realise that for the patient it would be a day waiting and thinking about nothing else but the scan.'

3. Doctors should be careful before dismissing patient's and relatives concerns: 'For me this was exemplified when Ruth (Andrew's wife) shared concerns about me with a member of staff. Ruth had seen me everyday for weeks and was concerned that something was wrong and that I was going downhill. In a five minute conversation Ruth was told to stop being a doctor (she was a doctor actually) and just go home and be a good wife. Within days I was admitted to a different hospital with a serious Graft versus Host disease. I remember as a houseman my professor telling me to listen to the patient-they are usually right!'
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