A Timeless Picture of Medicine

Pictures have the power to heal.

In this case, I’m speaking of inner pictures actually.

I carry in my imagination a picture of medicine that guides me and how I care for my patients. It’s a living picture that serves as an archetype for me for patient care. The image I carry is one of a doctor visiting a patient in their home.

The picture has a timeless nature to it, set in a small town; it could be current, or it could be from hundreds of years ago or even the future. There is a pastoral element as well — the doctor had to travel through nature to get to the patient, in my picture.

In my picture of the home visit, there is a warmth between the patient and the doctor. The doctor’s care is strongly evident through the extra effort of the home visit. The patient easily recognizes it and is grateful. There’s a safe familiarity and trust that they have for one other.

Moreover, in my picture there is a reverence born out of the sacredness of the interaction at a home visit: 

  • a sacredness surrounding the knowledge of the body’s inner working 
  • a sacredness in the knowledge behind the meaning of the illness 
  • a sacredness in the doctor’s intention to be of service and of the patient’s drive to get better
  • and a sacredness surrounding the patient’s courage and for allowing the doctor to enter.

I have carried this imagination through the decision to go to medical school and the decision to be a generalist, whose job it is to focus on the whole patient. I have carried it through the years of training and on into my years of practicing; and, it has informed the decisions I’ve made determining the nature of my practice. It lives with me. I carried it, and it also carried me.

After 20 years of practicing medicine, often being lucky enough to be able to visit a patient’s home when needed, I realize the thing that makes this archetypal image so strong is just how much information about a person can come from a visit to their house. If you want to know someone and understand their illness you have to know them in the context of their environment.  A person and their environment can’t be separated in the quest to heal. The home offers a wonderful glimpse into someone’s life, it tells such a rich part of their tale.

This picture of the home-visit  that I carry is, in the end, a symbol of getting a clear view of who a person is. The house is a snapshot of their story, but the appearance of the physical body has a story to tell as well.

We actually don’t need the visit to their house to see a person for who they are. And we don’t need to be a doctor to heal. To know someone and to understand them is to really help them, and you don’t need much to be successful at it. You mostly need openness to them and kindness because when we know a person’s story and accept them, healing follows.

This is the advantage of relationship-based medicine, which is the ideal in medicine. It’s healing for both the patient and the doctor.