In the clinic, patients and doctors interact in a carefully choreographed routine. There’s an opening, questioning, examination, counseling, and finally, a finish. Outside of the clinic though, the performers never abandon their roles; they only adopt broader ones. An ill patient leaves the clinic to become an executive, suffering from a chronic illness. The physician exits the office to become the caretaker for a special needs child, and happens to be a doctor. These larger spheres, the outer perimeters of the Venn diagram of the doctor-patient relationship, are rarely witnessed by the other party.
Danielle Ofri’s new piece in the LA Times considers the small central slice of the Venn diagram, and redraws the boundaries.
The truth is, doctors rarely see patients in the actual settings of their lives, and we have little clue how their medical issues are integrated into the broader tapestry of their multidimensional worlds. I’d always associated Senora R. with how she looked in her pressed floral blouse sitting in the chair next to my desk, patiently waiting for me to tell her what medications she needed to take. Though I knew she had a job, I didn’t have any sense of where she spent the bulk of her waking hours.