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Good Doctors

Care and competence.

by Everett Wilson
December 3, 2005

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Good Doctors
 "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.   

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