“Variability is the law of life…no two bodies are alike, no two individuals react and behave alike
under the conditions which we know as disease.” – William Osler, MD
In my previous blog I noted, “patients’ want to be good patients,” which prompted several people to ask, “What is a good patient?”
According to the Oxford English dictionary the definition of the word patient is “to accept and tolerate delays, problems or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.”
The mere definition of the word in and of itself implies an expectation of how we are to respond when our lives have been interrupted by illness. For those of us who are not yet ill we can only imagine…
“I want to be a good patient,” she said.
As a writer I heard an opening line. In my role of medical humanist I understood her definition of good patient was valuable information for doctors to know.
I asked, “What is a good patient?”
“A good patient” she said “is someone who handles their disease well—who understands what their doctors tell them and how they want you to be. When I am not doing well and sometimes I’m not, I get frightened, sad, even depressed but I do my best to mask it. Do other patients mask it better than I do?”
I ask myself if doctors sometimes mistake silence for comprehension.
“There will never be a time when I am not a patient. I am trying to be a good patient—I don’t want to disappoint anyone. But we will all be disappointed. While my disease is treatable, it is incurable.”
“I can’t stop wanting to be a good patient,” she continued “but I know it is more important that I have good doctors.”
“What is a good doctor?” I asked.
“Good doctors know their medicine— they know its limits. Good doctors know they can’t make it go away, they can only hope with me it will continue to move slowly, very slowly.”
How did my note help the patient and, in turn, her doctor?
With note in hand her doctor asked, “Tell me, what it is that you would like to know?”