My father was a physician, and I often worked in his office over the summer as a teen. A visit to his office would begin at the front desk where we often knew the patients and greeted them by name. After waiting in a waiting room for probably 20-30 minutes, a patient would be taken to one of my father’s examination rooms, both of which had a large desk. My father would stand as the patient entered, greet them, and offer them a seat. He would then sit behind his desk and talk with the patient and find out about them. Next, he would step out, and a nurse would step in to help the patient get ready for an examination. My father, meanwhile, would go do step one with patient number two, then revisit patient one. After the first examination, he would step out and do the second examination while patient one was getting dressed. (He always had two nurses.) Then he would sit back down with patient one and have another discussion before sending them off with a prescription or recommendation for further treatment.
They discussed much more than just the presenting problem. By the time a patient left, my father knew what was going on in their lives and they in his.
In the past two weeks, Lesley and I have both gone to see a physician. Because Lesley lost her voice at one point, I accompanied her to see one of her doctors. At each stage, it was like watching what I had experienced growing up–except with the gasoline pedal to the floor. I don’t mean the doctors were rude or not concerned for us. They obviously wanted to help us get well. But every word was about our medical condition. The “offices” we were seen in were about the size of the X-ray closet in my father’s office. And beyond being able to see a couple of family snapshots of one doctor on a tiny bulletin board, I found out absolutely nothing about them. I guess I did see their diplomas and certifications on the wall. The minute we stepped out, someone else was in the queue to fill the tiny office.
I am grateful for medical care. We are blessed by it. I feel lots better today than I did ten days ago. And we were seen faster than we ever would have been seen back when my father practiced.
But I think physicians have a much tougher row to hoe these days. The art of medicine seems to have been condensed and I don’t know how the doctor-patient relationship can develop in the same way.
What does all this have to do with theology? Because my father was a man of faith (as were and are many physicians still) there were points when he would pray with his patients and talk about his own faith with them. I am sure this continues to happen but I would think it occurs much less frequently nowadays. I have no idea what the faith background is of any physician I have seen anytime recently.
I wonder how we build relationships today when everyone, even our doctors, seem to be so much in a hurry.
All the best,