Jenny Liu ’21 contemplates the “noise” associated with personal and societal expectations that threaten to blind medical practitioners from exercising personal values in treating patients.
It is a curious thing. We aspire to be the people we want to be, but there is a lot of noise along the way. Noise that deters us from embodying the values present in the type of person we want to be. As young children, we constantly form sentences, write stories, and draw pictures around the topic “When I grow up, I want to be…”
Firefighters, lawyers, scientists, actors.
The person working long days and nights working to fight the diseases of the world. A very respected member of society working a profitable and performance-based job. A noble profession, yet one riddled with hidden intentions and less than noble discrepancies. People may pursue a path in medicine for the right reasons, but along the way, the noise – awards, reviews, competition, expectations, money, pride – could cloud judgment or intentions.
This is a story about a person I used to work with. She had a sudden onset of a condition that will significantly change her life. The prognosis was not in her favor, but she did everything she could to seek the care she needed.
“Hi, I am Dr. Johnson. I got your referral from Dr. Harris. I’ve read up on your medical file from him, but the advice I’d have to give you is that the situation looks pretty bleak. It wouldn’t do you much good to receive treatment.”
“So why did I come here then?” I asked.
“Well, I can certainly do the treatment, but I’m just saying it probably wouldn’t be worth it as you wouldn’t receive any results from it.”
Dr. Johnson stared blankly at me as if he was dealing with a patient who has the flu. How infuriating, I thought.
“But this is my last resort. And you’re telling me I spent money on this visit for you to tell me to not do anything?”
I held down my tears as I struggled to get my words out. What was wrong with me? Why am I not telling him to fight for my case? I knew the outcome was bleak just from searching the Internet. I certainly did not pay for him to tell me what I already knew.
“In these types of cases such as yours, improvement is hardly the outcome. Why start an invasive procedure when we know the outcome will not benefit at all from this procedure?”
Dr. Johnson gave me the same disinterested stare as he explained the specifics of the procedure.
I am just another patient to him, I thought. He is trying to prevent me from going through with the treatment given his use of medical jargon.
“I guess given the time, money, and hassle, I won’t go through with the treatment then,” I said. The noise was too much for me. I didn’t want all my money to go to waste. I didn’t want to spend my precious time seeking care that wouldn’t give me the results I was hoping for. I walked away, holding back tears and frustrated at the lack of interest the doctor showed in my visit.
I came back for another visit. I changed my mind about proceeding with the treatment and began advocating for my health. I tuned out the noise that the doctor fed me concerning the treatment. I knew one thing in my times of uncertainty: I needed to do everything I could for my health.
Each time, the doctor never asked how I was doing. However, I felt better spending the money for the treatments as time went on. I never wanted to regret not fighting for my life. Each visit, especially at the last visit, he walked out of the room abruptly, never asking a final question of whether or not I saw any improvement from the treatment. We both knew the answer, but not asking these questions gave me the impression that he simply didn’t care and didn’t have time for a hopeless case like mine.
I was devastated by the loss regarding my health. What added to the devastation was my realization that medicine is not always the noble field of professions society deems it to be. My condition was hardly treatable, but that didn’t mean a doctor had the right to make me feel abandoned. I felt as if I fought for my life, more than he did, despite the fact that he had the knowledge, skills, and ability to help me.
Throughout my entire life, I thought doctors were supposed to be compassionate and noble people who advocated for their patients to have the best health. But, this visit, regarding a condition that will change my life for the worse, jolted me towards the reality of medical professionals. They are people; they are not always compassionate, they could be in medicine for the wrong reasons, they don’t always fight for something they don’t believe in.
To this day, my experience infuriates me. I lost a part of my life due to a disease, and in the moment, the only reaction and help I could get from my specialist doctor was one of frustration and apathy. I was just another unsuccessful treatment, an unsuccessful patient. They say a doctor is someone who embodies humanity, someone who gives their life to save people, to help people.
Where is the humanity in my case then? Why didn’t you fight for my life the way I thought you would?
Noble. More like noise – the lure of awards, meeting personal and social expectations, obtaining wealth and respect, lack of empathy, and worst of all, insincere passion. The noise that doesn’t get filtered out. The noise that may have drowned out the passion behind a medical profession. The noise that drowns out the empathy necessary for connection with patients. The noise that makes a doctor stop fighting for a patient’s life.