The art of medicine can refer to many things. For me, central to the art of medicine is the incorporation primarily of empathy and compassion in the patient-doctor interaction.
A story comes to mind here about a young soldier.
She was excited about the work she was doing in the military. The camaraderie was unlike anything she had known. She connected to the duty and honor of her role. Her friends in the military were like family.
However, she soon came face to face with the hard fact that a human being is not built for war.
Understandably, the sights, sounds and experiences of war she endured shook her foundation. Eventually she was struggling to perform her duties. She couldn’t sleep and had headaches. She suffered from panic attacks, dizziness and difficulty concentrating. Even though she wanted to support her platoon she could not find her way back to her regular shift touring the war zone.
She sought help. The military doctor worked hard, but the job was taxing. He had only so much he could give. He had a busy schedule, and the patients he encountered had a lot of needs. He made recommendations: medication and therapy. She was taken off duty. The waiting list for a therapist was long. It would take months. “I’m sorry there’s nothing we can do about that.” She was given medication regimens with the typical drugs. A psychoactive cocktail was prescribed. She got new symptoms on the new meds. She was given other medications and then higher doses. The more medicine she got, the more her condition deteriorated.
In hindsight she was struck with very meaningful insight. She felt like the main things she needed were support and love. She needed to be seen and heard. More than anything else she needed empathy and understanding. In her words, she said she needed a hug. She needed to be allowed to grieve. War simply is not who we are. She wanted to find who she was. That’s often what is needed. The medicines, because they were not giving her what she needed, didn’t work and made her worse.
Is the medical field supposed to be the place where the need for compassion and love are met?
Yes it is. And we do so, by degree. It takes love to learn technique and practice it. There is love in the mastery of skills. There is love in acquiring knowledge. The mastery of pharmacology and physiology and anatomy is love. Of course, it’s also there whenever a doctor or nurse or staff member is kind and caring, when they lead with their humanity. The details of time and space disappear for a moment, and it’s one human supporting another.
This is the the art of medicine.
Can the system do it better?
Yes, it can.
The sad truth is the human-to-human magic that happens between a nurse or doctor and patient shines through too often IN SPITE of the elements present that don’t support it.
I have an image of the impactful version of medicine that would snowball positively when as many details of the outer environment are in line with the ideals of compassion and love in the patient-doctor interaction.
Picture it with me:
- The room of course would be beautiful. Beauty around us reminds us all of our potential and inspires us to strive towards it.
- The architectural design and lighting would be calming and inviting. Sharp angles would be swapped with more organic curves.
- Natural light and how it was designed to be in the treatment space would be a focus.
- The air and how it circulated and the smells would be intentional.
- The food in the ideal would be organic and highly nourishing. It would come from agricultural practices that were regenerative for the earth and non exploitative to every kingdom — mineral, plant, animal and human.
- The time medical personnel spent with a patient would not be pressurized. The schedule would support the process. Love is often spelled t-i-m-e. The point here is not economic, it’s artistic, remember?
- And last but not least the content of the therapies would favor the most compassionate and lovely options. A deeper understanding of illness and healing would have space here. Deceit or manipulation to position a “product” on the market would be inconceivable.
The medical team opens to the patient, completely and without judgment. The patient feels seen and heard. The treatment plan is informed by the depth of that meeting. Everything is in line with the true content of an intentional healing interaction: the human-to-human magic that supports self-discovery.
Then medicine would have the power of clarity that comes from consistency across many levels.
What a masterpiece it would be!
And we honor every incremental step towards its creation. We are clearly capable of so much remarkable achievement when we tap into the inner artist.
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