Wednesday, April 02, 2008


It's strange that some people have no idea why they take certain medicines or what medical condition they have. It's usually multi-factorial. Either nobody has bothered to really explain their disease to them, or sometimes the patient isn't smart enough to comprehend, process, and remember that information, or in some cases, they simply don't care.

How someone will gladly take medicines or undergo an operation without fully understanding the risks, benefits, and consequences of their actions is beyond me. Blind faith? Idiocy? Apathy?

So I always try to educate my patients. But of course, occasionally their disease process is quite complex and it would easily confuse anyone not in the medical field. But I try nevertheless.

I don't try to insult them, but I do "dumb it down" significantly, using common layman terms and concepts that I think will be easy to digest. I model my explanations on the way Stephen Hawking tried to explain the origin of the universe in A Brief History of Time. (A great book, btw.) There were a few concepts that I didn't really understand, but I got the gist of the thing.

And I'd say about 60% of the patients understand what I'm trying to tell them. 39% feign understanding, but I can tell that some of the finer details are lost and they're just nodding along, but the overall gist of the matter is being understood.

The other 1%? They don't even pay attention. I had one lady check her text messages on her phone halfway through one of my explanations. A little upsetting and frustrating, but what can you do? Besides, they're the ones doing funny/amusing things that I use as fodder for this blog.

Occasionally I bring their xray or CT scan into the room to show them their cancer, or whatever disease I'm trying to cure with an operation. I point out various things that are very obvious to me, but I'm sure to them just looks like black and white abstract art.

I can tell that I've used up all their attention span, because the patient will often interject with "Well, you're the doctor. Do what you think you need to do."

That's my cue to stop.

I equate this to Jackson Pollack trying to explain one of his crazy paintings to me, pointing out one paint squiggle after another, saying how one squiggle represents his faith in religion, and this other squiggle represents the sadness he felt when he lost a puppy, and that paint blotch represents his inner longing for stable companionship.

I guarantee that I'm not going to understand what he's pointing at. I'm just going to nod along, and at some point, just give up trying to understand his painting and let him know I'm at my stopping point: "Hey, you're the artist. Paint what you think you need to do."