Ellicott City, Maryland – I see patients who are down on their luck. Some of them have lost a spouse that they were married to for decades. Some are in the deep rut of depression and can’t seem to get out of its death grip on them. Yet others are mourning the loss of a relationship or job that they had pinned their hopes on. Some have fallen and lost a limb, or hurt their back in a terrible accident, and are undergoing a difficult rehab process to get back on their feet. In short, I see people at their worst. My day is consumed by stories of loss. – lost hope, a lost loved one, lost health, lost fortune, etc., etc., etc.
I am sure most healthcare providers will agree with me here. Even if you are not a behavioral or mental healthcare provider, you see your share of loss every day. It is this loss that we try to reconcile and heal in our own ways, whatever our expertise may be. And for that we need to care for our patients, not in a figurative sense, but in a very literal one.
One of the many definitions of care in the dictionary is as follows – “the provision of what is needed for the well-being or protection of a person or thing.” Hence, we are called to do “what it takes” to protect the well-being of our patients as their healthcare providers. Notice that the word’s meaning is all-encompassing, not partial in any way. Our patients put their sacred trust in us every day and it is a trust that we must respect and protect at all costs. That is why I often give my personal cell phone number to my patients and their families. They can call me any time of the day or night to discuss their many questions and concerns with me. As far as I am concerned, they are my customers to whom I am providing a service. They need to expect a basic principle from me – that I “care” about them.
I often hear physicians and nurses say that they are overwhelmed with the care of their patients. I have tremendous sympathy for them. Our jobs are not easy, and I do not think that they were ever meant to be. I have even written about physician burnout and fatigue in op-eds before. Our patients and their families can often be demanding, disconsolate and ungrateful. I hope we did not enter this profession thinking it would be anything otherwise. We are supposed to be the experts in our respective fields of health care, and as such, we are expected to provide “what it takes” for the patient to heal. Yes, it may mean that you have to miss your daughter’s piano recital, or a dinner date that you had planned with your spouse for a long time. I believe that these costs are nothing compared to the trauma and tribulations of our patients and their families.
We are called in the Hippocratic oath to do no harm to our patients. Let us start by showing that we care for them. Let us put “care” back in healthcare.