Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Technician Not a Doctor


William Osler examining a patient.

I recently read an article in JAMA[1] wherein a transplant surgeon describes his consultation with a patient.
From my reading, the surgeon almost accidentally finds out the man had been shot seven times and tortured. Much to my surprise, the surgeon does not want to ask any personal questions for fear that he would be "pry(ing) too much". As far as I can tell the patient was never examined by this highly specialized surgeon at an elite Medical Center. Instead, our protagonist discovers that the patient, a Visiting Professor of Theater, has written plays about his experiences in his native land in Africa by "Googling" him rather than taking the simple human expedient of asking questions. He then orders the patient's play from, reads it, and is justly disturbed. His mother notices this (during Mother's Day) but he ducks her questions for fear of "violat(ing) my patient's privacy". Remember this patient has published all of this. I found this entire story quite disturbing: this physician seems to deny both his and his patient's humanity. He seems to miss the whole fun of medicine: meeting people from all walks of life and helping them. When I discussed this incident with several of my colleagues, one of them very astutely said, "Perhaps we should call him a transplant technician rather than a surgeon".