I went to see a new cardiologist the other day as I have been having ongoing blood-pressure difficulties that have been difficult, well, impossible to diagnose. After a brief wait, a nice-looking 50-year-old man walked in with his young intern trailing behind. They both took their respective chairs (hers near the corner) and he began the interview. The first thing that thing that struck me about this man was that he actually listened. He paused after my answers just for a second or two before he asked another question. The second thing I noticed was how exhausted this poor intern looked, and how hard she was trying to hold on to all the information that was coming her way. As the doctor moved closer to me in order to listen to my heart and take my blood pressure, he asked me another question about my symptoms. My answer seemed to take him by surprise as I don't think it fit in his diagnostic formulation. He sat quietly for several long seconds with his eyes closed and then continued our discussion. Towards the end, he made some recommendations and an interim plan and said goodbye. On his way out the door, I said to the intern that what she witnessed was an example of doctoring at its best. I told her how this man sat next to me with his eyes closed not afraid of not knowing what was happening. Not afraid to be confused, and caring enough to do all of that in my presence.
There wasn't time to tell her everything I wanted to tell her about caring in medicine and eye contact and the power of touch. I couldn't tell her how alone people feel in that examining room and whenever they see a cardiologist that it is about matters of the metaphorical heart also. I wanted to tell her that it takes courage, strength and self confidence for a doctor to be open to their own ignorance.
But I did have time to tell her that if she practiced medicine the way she just witnessed she would be more than a very good doctor. She would be a healer.