Dignity For All

In medicine there is promotion of the God complex. No matter what anyone says, because people are afraid to die and desperate to live, they place enormous faith in modern medicine and its medical establishments - so much so that medicine becomes a faceless entity, a nondescript well of expected benefaction.


Except that it is not. Medicine is an imperfect world made up of people, people from all walks who have their hopes, their dreams, their struggles, their encumbrances. And due to the strong push for professionalism in medicine supporting the patient-is-first mentality, members of the medical establishment tacitly agree to not appear human before their patients. We present the face of strength, the unwavering face of hope, we are the bastion of knowledge and comfort. And this poses a problem.



In trying to be the picture of perfection for our patients, because we think we need to be their full support in their greatest time of need, we too are not allowed to express our humanity. When patients and their caregivers berate us, attack us, push us to our very limits, attempt to domineer us, threaten us, belittle our expertise, it can hurt tremendously. We are expected to soak it all up as a sponge and smile graciously, with the incredible munificence of a saint. After all, this is our chosen profession. But the truth is, it doesn't feel right.


Retaliation is certainly never warranted or ethical, but a conversation about patient and caregiver behavior is. While there are truly some patients and caregivers who are not in their right minds, there are many who are enough so or more and are simply behaving badly, choosing to be unfair and difficult in a difficult time for all, regressing with a tantrum because they refuse to cope with healthy skills.


I say this because I have had both: the most understanding patients and caregivers in the face of deep adversity, and the most petulant and spoiled, treating staff like hired help to be bossed around. And again, while it is easy to say that some one should be excused because they are having difficulty coping, is that really an excuse to verbally abuse a nurse and reduce that individual to tears? The truth is, that this is unspoken territory, something which we dare not talk about as medical professionals for fear of being branded as uncaring, being seen as less than perfect. We want to say that every patient and caregiver is going through a hard time, needs our utmost compassion - which is true. But we medical staff are the selfsame humans going through the living process, too. We, as patients ourselves under God, also need to be treated with dignity.

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