I was talking with a friend the other day and in our conversation the idea came out that if a doctor has a good bedside manner, he or she is probably not a very good doctor. Which if that’s true the second thought I had was that I would be a very bad doctor, based on the fact that I love people and want them to feel that love in whatever I do.
Made me pause. My whole career is bent on trying to get caretakers to ultimately have a good bedside manner. We coach caregivers on how to be kind, respectful, and good communicators with each other and with their patients, all while still being a “good” doctor or nurse in the sense of critical, detail oriented thinking as well as the ability to make crucial decisions–sometimes very quickly–that lead to good clinical outcomes. It seems, at least to my friend, that these two skills cannot be combined.
Is it possible for caretakers to stay connected to the humanness of everything they touch, while at the same time operate in the realms of their brains need to analyze, segregate into patterns, and make critical decisions?
In his memoir, “When Breath Becomes Air”, Paul Kalanithi writes about the transformation he goes through when first dissecting a cadaver. At first he is connected to the cadaver’s humanness, but then, gradually–but quicker than he anticipated–he disconnects and the cadaver becomes simply matter: muscle, organs, tissues.
He writes, “It was not a simple evil, however. All of medicine, not just cadaver dissection, trespasses into sacred spheres. Doctors invade the body in every way imaginable. They see people at their most vulnerable, their most sacred, their most private. They escort them into the world, and then back out. Seeing the body as matter and mechanism is the flip side to easing the most profound human suffering.”
It’s this paradox, the matter and the soul, that all caregivers operate in. It’s the constant sway of their pendulum: effortlessly being able to highly function and make crucial decisions about the “matter” in front of them, while at the same time being able to turn right around and engage emotionally with a distraught and terrified patient or family member.
Some operate on this pendulum better than others, and there are many more factors that play into its complexities than the simple few I’ve presented here. But the fact remains: excellent caregivers possess a wide range of both relational, intellectual, and critical thinking skills and are able to go back and forth and overlap them like a fine orchestra, making seamless music to the patient, who is both matter and soul.
What about you? Have you experienced a doctor who navigated the paradox of matter and humaness well? Tell me about it in a comment below!