Care and competence.
by Everett Wilson
December 3, 2005
"I told you I was sick."
--Epitaph of a hypochondriac
My primary physician is a generation younger than me, which is neither here nor there: he's the doctor.
I don't know why I was in the office, but for whatever reason he asked whether everything else was going okay. I thought to point out a sore on my forehead that sort of acted like a pimple but wasn't. His face came in close to mine as he peered at the spot. "I'm taking that off," he said flatly. He didn't mean I should make another appointment in a month or so. He meant then and there. I left the office with a bandage on my face and a piece of me on its way to a laboratory. Yes, it was skin cancer, and yes, he got it all. It's one of my favorite moments in a lifetime of dealing with physicians.
Maybe I am a hypochondriac; I know I am a literalist in the sense of taking things at their face value. If conventional wisdom says, "See your doctor," I tend to follow the advice more often than average. Not only in medical matters but in almost anything that affects me directly and personally, I would rather know what is going on than spend my time worrying or guessing about it. I go to my doctor not because he knows everything but because he knows a lot more than I do, yet still is willing to listen to me.
I have been fortunate in having had great doctors over the years. Almost always they have neither magnified nor minimized my complaints, but have objectified them and done their best to see what was going on in my body.
They were not infallible, but I never expected that. I am a pastor; theoretically, if any humans are infallible it ought to be the clergy, what with our implied personal pipeline to God. Since we manifestly are not infallible, we have no right to expect others to be, not even physicians. I expect them to take me seriously though, just as parishioners expect me to take them seriously. Then I expect them to give their best shot as to what, if anything, is wrong with me, and to what, if anything, can be done about it.
When I was a boy, my doctor was the contemporary of my father; then progressively of my older brothers, of myself, and now of my children. My current physician, though comparatively young, has knowledge and skills that were unavailable to my doctor fifty years ago. They were alike in this, however, that they paid close attention to me.
If caring were all they were good at, of course, I would have changed doctors. But they were good not only in how they related to me, but in what they could do for me. In the helping professions, care is no substitute for competence, nor the other way around. When the doctor asked if everything else was going okay, he cared. When he said, "I'm taking that off," he was competent.
About the Author:
Everett Wilson is pastor of Prairie Lake Evangelical Covenant Church, Chetek, Wisconsin.
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