Monday, August 26, 2013

We Yearn to Help

If a prescription gave you diarrhea or made you vomit, you might complain. But until well into the twentieth century, the average American looked on a good “purge” as a way to expel disease. Physicians took pride in their cathartics, and when patients discussed a doctor’s skill, they gave high marks for the violence of his purges.

A person who visits a doctor expects certain behavior. Nowadays Americans frown upon exorcism, bleeding, or purging, but we expect medicine. It should be one only a doctor can prescribe; over-the-counter drugs don’t count. Pills are good, but an injection is better. Of course, modern drugs often work, but this is a minor matter compared to the deep human desire that a doctor do something.

I apologize if this sounds mildly insulting; I suspect most of you will deny expecting a drug. You want whatever will help. If nothing will help, you want to know.

Such sensible patients do appear, but no day passes when I don’t see disappointment in a patient’s eyes when he or she realizes I don’t plan to “give them something.” 

Doctors genuinely want to help you, and we feel bad when we can’t. We also feel bad when we do our best, and it’s obvious a patient doesn’t feel “helped.” So many of us add a prescription to convince you that we’re doing what a proper doctor should do.

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