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Scarvey column: In praise of good doctors

The satisfactions to be derived from practicing certain branches of medicine, like pediatrics or obstetrics, seem self-evident. But imagine choosing a specialty that entails doing daily battle with cancer, and having to say things such as, “Your cancer is back.”
I went on a church mission trip to Guatemala with Dr. Brink Brinkley some years ago.I remember thinking it was probably a relief for him to be able to treat patients without using toxic chemicals or radiation, the usual tools of his trade, to be able to prescribe a simple course of antibiotics and be reasonably sure of a cure.
How fortunate we are that so many oncologists like Brink are able to treat their patients with kindness and compassion day after day, handling the emotional stress without resorting to crawling under their beds after they get home from work.
Medical schools haven’t historically done a great job preparing doctors for the side of medicine that deals with human emotion. Fortunately, many doctors seem to have a natural gift for communication.
Until about seven years ago, my family was blissfully ignorant about doctors. Except for a routine maintenance visit here and there, our lives were largely doctor-free.
My daughter’s brain tumor changed all that. Overnight, doctors became hugely important: pediatricians, oncologists, surgeons, anesthesiologists, ophthalmologists, endocrinologists.
And while I wouldn’t have predicted it, our interactions with doctors have been, with a few exceptions, overwhelmingly positive.
That certainly includes local doctors, like the team at Salisbury Pediatrics and ophthalmologist Dr. Ozzie Reynolds, who is the definition of compassion.
Good doctors are generally good communicators, with the ability to be honest and direct without sacrificing kindness.As the parent of a child with medical problems, I’ve always wanted all information available. One doctor who always seemed to present both the big picture and the details was Quinn’s surgeon at New York University Medical Center.Before one of Quinn’s complicated brain surgeries, he confided to my husband and me about how he had recently heard from two of his former patients’ families.
One patient had done extremely well years out from surgery. The other had been left with some troubling deficits, and the family regretted choosing to do surgery.
I’m all for disclosure, but my daughter was only hours away from being wheeled into an operating theatre. “Why is he telling me this now?” I wondered.
He must have read my thoughts. “I just want you to know that I’ll be thinking about both those outcomes when I’m in there with Quinn.”
Then, I realized the point of his story. He wanted us to know that he understood that our child had a future, and that he cared about the quality of that future, and not just her post-operative scan.
What huge responsibilities our doctors shoulder.
I feel humbled and grateful to know that they are willing to carry our burdens as their own, at least for a time.
Contact Katie Scarvey at kscarvey@salisburypost.com.

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