Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Physician's Paradox

Generally speaking, those who seek to practice medicine have an inclination towards science and problem solving. This certainly can be true of nurses, social workers and other professional caregivers, but I'm mostly directing this characterization at those who choose to be doctors. There is usually a belief in tests, research and data. There is a satisfaction in fixing a physical problem with a tangible and concrete solution. Facts are valued over anecdotal evidence. Chemicals and surgery are considered before the mind or emotions. The people who practice medicine want to help people with what can be seen as the undeniable results of science.

Often, this science serves us. Often, the belief in data and chemicals is proven true by a predictable outcome. Often, medicine works as expected.

But what about the days when science fails us? When the treatment we thought would be so simple goes terribly awry? Or, what about the patient who regains health after all hope of medical intervention was lost? If something does not work 100% of the time as we predict, how can we believe it to be true science? What becomes of the doctors who rely on science for their view of the world and those they treat?

I have known many doctors in my life. Each to their own degree, they allow the combination of science and mystery to instruct their practice.

I have known doctors who treat me as a grouping of cells and disease processes. These are the doctors who I find to be arrogant and blind to my basic human-ness. These are the caregivers who will leave me when my illness is untreatable or confusing. These are the same ones who think they have all the control and can not bear to give any of it to anyone, especially a patient.

It is my experience that the best physicians are the ones who are never so bold to believe they are up to the task of being a doctor. They walk the tightrope of uncertainty and scientific structure without clinging too strongly to one or the other. They remain confident in science while taking a deep breath through all that they do not know. This, the physician's paradox, is what makes the doctors I have loved extraordinary caregivers.

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