Turning Tables – Treating Physicians

Today, one of the other residents and I had an interesting conversation.

Somehow, the topic of treating physicians came up.  And it is something that terrifies us both.  And not just for the reasons you might think.

I will confess, treating other health care people is always nerve wracking because you worry even more about saying something wrong or stupid because you always wonder if they are secretly judging your skills.

But the bigger thing is that when we see them, they are being faced with a cancer diagnosis.  And for some reason, most physicians and nurses get the bad ones and all the complications.   And that is horrible for anyone.

The issue is, they know too much.  Sometimes, having some uncertainty is a good thing.  But, when you have cared for people with the same thing.  When you understand the odds and get the treatments, it is a whole other level.  You know the worst case scenarios.  All of them. Sometimes the unknown bits of the known are the worst.  Especially when your whole world gets turned upside down.

That is the hard part.  The anxiety, the sadness, the anger and guilt.  The fact that sometimes, the person who knows too much coming in can’t be easily comforted.  That the numbers that scare everyone have too much meaning.

It also forces us to face our own mortality.

We both agreed that given we work in Oncology and given the odds in the world today, we will both one day have cancer.  And we will probably die from it.   Those are simply real odds.  And the “comedy” that is life.

And we know this and accept it.  In fact, we laugh about it in an uncomfortable kind of way.  Sure, I might have a heart attack or an accident, but it is more likely I get dementia or die of cancer… Or both.

Really, it is something I accept.  But, it is still something that is terrifying. And maybe that won’t happen.  Maybe I’ll just die in my sleep in old age.

Either way the reality of seeing people who dedicate their lives to healing others broken, afraid and unwell is terrifying.  They are “one of us” who became “one of them.  It is just too real sometimes.  Too close to home.

I just want to fix the hurt.  I want to prevent the hurt.  I want to be out of a job (kind of).

But I can’t.  So, we do the best we can.  With every person.  Because one day the tables will turn in one way or another.

5 thoughts on “Turning Tables – Treating Physicians

  1. You got me thinking with this post. “…One of us who became one of them.” Wow….That would be very difficult. Funny, I never envision myself dying of cancer. Then I really take a good look at my family history and it’s not pretty. Both my parents had colon cancer (my father’s was metastatic by the time it was diagnosed and he succumbed to it). My mother survived for 20+ years after her diagnosis, only to develop other multiple cancers that took her life in the end. So no, it’s not looking too good for me.

    One of the hardest cases I ever had in veterinary medicine was taking on a colleague’s beloved dog which ended up with thyroid adenocarcinoma. It was very difficult. On one hand I was dealing with the devoted pet owner who was very much in denial, and at the same time, I was dealing with the veterinarian owner who had dealt with thyroid cancers in animals and knew the worst case scenarios.

    • It is scary stuff to think about sometimes. The funny part is that sometimes, we don’t even wind up with what we think we saw coming. Life is like that sometimes.

      Wow, that case does sound tough. It is so hard when someone knows so much and yet just like any one of us when put in a terrifying situation, denial kicks in. Plus, your own emotions come into play.

  2. I’ll share my esperience in a post after my exams – earlier thus year I had to see a physician in acute psychiatry. It was the first time I treated a fellow HCW – and since then there have been two others. No cancers for me though. I can understand your fears though. Talk again after exams 🙂

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