Do No Harm June 16 2017

Each time I come face to face with another cancer survivor, one who is still undergoing treatments, I question the Hippocratic Oath that MDs are required to take. I may be mistaken, but I believe one of the strongest tenets of this centuries-old oath is, “First, do no harm”.

first do no harm, doctor

I am sure that especially since it has been around for so long that the meaning of “do no harm” was to not harm a patient physically e.g. unnecessary surgery, making an ill person more ill somehow, etc..

However, I think that in this day and age we should expand that to include “do no harm” psychologically, spiritually, emotionally!

We have all heard stories of docs with awful bedside manners. I have experienced these misfits as well. They think because they are “the doctor” and they have the secret for curing you of your ills, that that is enough. People who are undergoing medical crises need to feel that someone CARES about them. 

How does one show care?

By listening, by placing a hand on a shoulder, by looking the patient directly in the eye, and by smiling and addressing the person the way the person wants to be addressed (Carol or Ms. Smith?). All these things convey care and interest in the patient as a PERSON, someone with a mind AND a body AND a spirit! 

When I went to my “2nd opinion” (melanoma) doc he greeted me in his office, he at his desk and me in the subservient guest chair. He wanted me to know he was IN CHARGE. He had my charts that had been sent to my “1st choice” doc. We discussed what Dr. H. suggested and why he thought it was or was not the way to go. His suggestions as to treatment were the same as Dr H. I started asking him questions. After the first query, he put his hands up in a “stop” signal and said, “Oh, we know all about you, you are a Tough Cookie and want to know everything about everything. Well, leave it up to me…..” Needless to say, this man was the epitome of how NOT to treat people coming to you for counsel and advice, and yes, reassurance. Every question I asked him he took as a personal attack.

When I first met Dr. H, my 1st choice doc, he exuded comfort and care. We shook hands and he asked how my husband and I would like to be addressed. He looked at my incision, palpitated lymph nodes, and asked us questions. He took the time to explain to us what his interpretation of my slides was, what protocol would be the best in my particular circumstances. He gave me a brief overview of what he expected the sequence of events would be, how long each protocol would take, what side effects may present themselves, what collateral tests or scans had to be done, etc., etc.. He made us feel that we were in the most capable hands we could be in.

He treated us with dignity and humanity and professionalism.

cancer treatment is hard enough

I cannot imagine how psychologically devastating the “2nd doc” would have been to me if I had decided to switch to him. Minimizing my comments and eagerness to learn all I could about MY disease and MY body and MY spirit and MY mind; degrading my spirit with his tough cookie comment; treating me not as an individual, but as just one more cancer patient who will need his brilliant mind to get her through the process. So, “First, do no harm?” If this doc had taken the oath, he is not following it. Not in the least. 

This experience, added to other negative experiences in the cancer world, and the experiences of my sisters Patty and Claire, motivated us to start our Spirited Sisters company. Having lived long enough to have experienced discrimination against women many, many times in our lives (we were all born within 12 years of each other, 1949 -1961) a fire was kindled in us to help women achieve independence and empowerment in their lives. We hoped and now know, the collection of clothing we decided to design and manufacture, our Healing Threads, was the right tool at the right time to give that independence and empowerment to (especially) women going through this very personal and very draining time in their lives.

After all, if you can say, "no thank you, I have my own", with authority and pride when offered a hospital gown, what else can you question and challenge? The possibilities are endless!!!!

Be well,
Peg

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