My dad was in the hospital. By ones and twos, the doctors and therapists and nurses and nursing assistants walked in.
“How are you doing today?”
He speaks deliberately, my dad does, and he so he would answer with a few words. (Okay, to be honest, it got to the point where it was tempting to just hold up a card: “I am doing as well as can be expected when everyone keeps asking me how I am doing today.”) Consistently, the doctors would plunge into telling him what they knew, what the last test showed (or didn’t show), and then they would tell him what he needed to do. The others would listen, briefly, and then tell him what he could and couldn’t do.
When the staff left, dad turned to me.
“They need to listen to me.”
I confess. My first response was, “Dad, you need to listen to them.”
They are the trained professionals. They know bodies, lots of bodies. They know medicines and treatments and processes and timings. I wanted to tell my dad that he needed to obey what they say.
Now I’ve been around enough healthcare professionals to know that they are not infallible. I know stories about malpractice, about mistreatment. I understand suffering that friends have gone through. But my initial response was based on the assumption that all things being equal, the healthcare people have more training than my dad does.
But then I thought more about listening, about what my dad was saying. I realized that he was not trying to assert that he knew medicine better than they did. He was merely saying that if they would stop and listen to him, converse with him, they could learn more about how his body works, a body that he’s been observing for a long time. They would gain more information for diagnosis. They would hear how to gain him as an ally in his own care rather than treating him as an adversary.
And then I realized that I was just as bad as the docs. It’s not so much a matter of sides, of being on Dad’s side or the docs’ side. In truth, there are no sides in this particular healthcare debate. There is a man who wants to be as well as he can be. If I were to stop and listen to him, to his heart as well as his voice, I might find ways to help him.
After all, he’s known him longer than I have.