The soul of a doctor

I often fondly remember a doctor. We had just returned from Melbourne to Delhi via Bangkok, Singapore and Kolkata. Our son was just two years old. He developed dysentery and that was becoming quite worrisome for us. A colleague of mine suggested us to meet a doctor. She said, "If you believe that doctors who don't charge a big fee can also be good doctors, you may take your son to him."

This doctor was the most unassuming person we had ever met. He talked for almost an hour about us, our family, and many things totally unrelated to the problem our son was facing. In this one hour, he created enough confidence in us about his abilities. He understood our feelings as young and inexperienced parents. He told us that our feelings were absolutely normal. Before the treatment had even begun, we felt that the doctor was caring and compassionate. He let us talk. He listened quietly, generating a feeling that we knew more about our son's illness and he respected that. We became, not merely his patients, but also his friends. Before the healing process started, he was able to create a bond between us. When we came out of his room we knew we met not only a good doctor, but also a good man.

Human touch is as important as technology for curing an illness. Both have a symbiotic relationship. The purpose of both is healing and comforting; healing comes from medicine, comforting is done by the doctor. A doctor's job, I believe, is half finished if the patient thinks that the doctor has heard and understood him. A good doctor knows that ‘find it and fix it’ mode of treatment often doesn’t work. The feelings and emotions of a patient need to be acknowledged by the doctor, though often times they seem unreasonable. Impatience could be the trait of a patient, but not of a doctor.

Our doctor, in one of our conversations told us that before coming to his chamber, he visits a nearby temple. He told us that he prayed for the well-being of his patients who came to him with lot of anxiety and faith. The doctor prayed so that he could do justice to their faith. He believed that prayers help, both the doctor and the patient, in the healing process.

The story in the adjoining chamber, which the doctor’s son occupied, was different. Most of us preferred to consult the father. It was embarrassing, not only for the son, but also for the father. Though the son respected his father, he was unhappy for being neglected by us. He was well equipped technically, but was not so well equipped to handle the 'human' part. He did not blame his father. But he did not realise his own shortcomings.

For a patient, a doctor's technical qualifications are important, but also important is doctor's other side. It is true, for a doctor illness is a faulty process in the body. He tries to identify it through laboratory tests and clinical observations. But a doctor can't afford to be uncaring and hurried. He can't afford to be disrespectful to the patient, whatever 'technology' or 'status' he might have acquired.

Once our doctor confided to us: A patient's independence, optimism and faith in the doctor makes him a better doctor. He then quietly added, I wish my son understands, sooner the better, that the soul of a doctor lies in the heart and mind of a patient.