When my dad was in the hospital, I had an opportunity to observe the different styles of doctors. They ran all the way from aloof and distant to intimate and caring.
Now I can’t imagine what it does to a person’s psyche to watch people die as part of your job; to literally pronounce their death sentence and then preside over their passing.
I couldn’t do it.
Yet to my amazement I witnessed some people who could.
There were many doctors who came to see my dad and I’m happy to say that most of them tended towards the caring side, getting close to him, asking him questions while doing examinations and making him feel cared for.
One doctor I remember was clearly distant and aloof. Talking to the interns, reading his chart and asking questions devoid of any tinge of caring.
There were a couple nurses in particular who took the time to be with my dad and massage his feet, help him exercise and express genuine care for him, even when it was more than likely that he wouldn’t make it.
One element that the caring doctors and nurses had in common was touch. They all touched him.
In this 18 minute talk below, Dr. Abraham Verghese talks about the role of a doctor’s touch.
In it he talks about the trend of modern medicine to omit touch, and how critical touch is to convey a kind of supreme bond of trust between doctor and patient even when the inevitable is near.
His words at the end conveyed what one doctor in particular— Dr. Mark West—conveyed to my dad, my mother and I in the days before my dad died.
Those words meant more than you can imagine.