From Doctor to Patient


When a doctor/healer gets sick how does s/he respond? What I am asking is not how do they act while they are ill, this is not really a fair question, as everyone has their own idiosyncratic ways about them. My question is more about how this may change their perception of illness and disease.
I have heard many Chinese medicine students in the United States who have come to Chinese medicine [mostly] later in life say that they had gotten ill with this or that disease and Chinese medicine helped them in profound ways that opened their eyes to the wonders of the art. And, that this is what lead them to study Chinese medicine. I have also heard this from Western herbal students. Upon further questioning most of these students take, what I would consider, a softer, gentler more patient based approach to their healing technique. What I mean by this is that because of their history of [often] severe illness they are more prone to a compassionate and deeply empathetic style of practice.
I bring this up in light of my question that started off this post because I believe illness can actually help doctors/healers to understand the human condition, if they are willing and able to observe themselves and learn from their own experience with humility and grace.
I haven’t posted in a while because I have been quite ill. Well not really really sick, but for someone who hasn’t really had more then a slight twinge of a cold in more than two years I was pretty sick, and I haven’t quite recovered but the cough has subsided markedly today. During this time I went to bed earlier, took a morning off from work, and stayed away from my morning coffee and evening beer. I avoided my computer and didn’t even read or study much. Why did I change my habits? Well, the coffee and beer should be obvious, while I very rarely drink more than one cup of coffee on any day, and usually only drink one [sometimes two] beer in the evening I, without giving it any thought at all stopped doing those things. Going to bed earlier, resting, etc. are all obvious things that most people do either because they know it is the right thing to do or because they are simply tired. But as I approach 40 years of walking on this Earth I realized that I have lived approximately 1/2 my life and my body does not respond in the same way it used to. Although I am generally in good health, I am aging, as we all are, and this along with my recent illness has given me a chance to observe my own “human condition” and relate it to how I approach a patient.
Although I have never had a major illness, I would consider my practice with patients to be deeply rooted in empathy and compassion. But illness and age, perhaps, can shed new light on how to approach a patient. What I have noticed during the last week or so is that by observing my own fallibility I have been able to more easily “see” others. Now you are probably scratching your heads thinking something like, “What is he trying to say?” please bare with me while I figure it out! What I mean is that, and perhaps this is more a function of age rather than illness but I think it is a combination of the two, while I have been ill and starting to feel my age I found it easier to see the why of peoples struggles. It is as if a light was turned on and I am better able to see the dirty socks on the closet floor, or something like that.
The fact is that while the economy around the world is in peril the people of the world still suffer in the same ways they always have, though perhaps the situation is made worse for some. And, beyond that people have always suffered in more or less the same way. The triggers for suffering may have changed, but the responses are the same, although I do believe that the modern age has seen the “strength” of these triggers, or rather the result of the triggers, increase. But, this does not change the way in which the healer approaches the patient, in fact it may in fact make the compassionate and empathetic approach more imperative.

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