Monday, February 18, 2013

On Feeling Like Patootie and Developing Empathy

Empathy is an incredibly powerful emotion.  An important part of being a doctor is understanding what its like to be a patient.  Understanding what it feels like to have the flu.  Understanding what it feels like to be stuck in a holding room without the ability to leave and get a drink or a snack.  Understanding what its like to not know what is wrong with you.  Understanding what it feels like to have to wait for a phone call from the doctor's office.  Understanding what it feels like to not be able to breathe, etc etc etc.  I wish no one ever had to experience any of these ... but then I'd be jobless.  I feel like when I get the chance to experience them, its increasing my ability to be a more caring, well-rounded physician.

Apparently, its in the cards for me to have an empathy building day.  Today, I feel like crap.  I have a legit fever of 101.5 and I'm doing my best to simply let the fever play its course and not knock it down with drugs.  Fevers are the body's way of fighting infection, so I'm miserably letting my body fight.

While having a virus doesn't really require any healthcare beyond fluids and time, I only know that because I'm months away from being a doctor myself.  Five years ago, I would have called my doctor first thing simply to make sure I wasn't dying of ebola or something.  Now, I actively avoid making that call lest I find out I misdiagnosed myself with a virus that is actually ebola.  (Don't worry, I haven't been exposed to ebola.  I just find it one of the most amazing viruses on the planet and am absolutely fascinated and hope to get up close and personal with it some day.  I'm weird, I know.)

Not everyone has a doctor.  Not everyone has the money to make the simple appointment.  Not everyone has the ability to pay for a prescription in the off chance its a bacterial infection.

Why am I thinking about this today?  And by this, I mean the distribution of healthcare in the US.  This month, I'm working in the ER and I'm constantly reminded of what happens when primary care isn't made readily available to everyone.  I'm not advocating handouts and I'm not advocating any specific plan, I'm simply pointing out a terrible flaw in our system.  When people don't have access to basic primary care outpatient resources, they end up clogging the hospital system with problems that could have been thwarted much earlier.

Taking care of healthy people is much less expensive than taking care of sick people.  As a country, we have to find a way to take care of people before they get sick.  We owe it to ourselves and our children and our parents and everyone's collective future.  Somehow, we have to find a way to help our fellow humans who by chance or choice are in less than ideal circumstances and don't have the opportunities we have to receive the care we do.

Empathy.  I feel like patootie today and I'm thinking about how to keep others from feeling like this tomorrow.  :)

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