Empathy

I’ve written before that I started writing my book as an outlet for my frustrations after dealing with doctors’ hurtful attitudes for too many years. On the drive home following yet one more upsetting appointment I remember telling my daughter that we needed to find a doctor who had experienced chronic illness firsthand, because then s/he would have some empathy for a patient. That was the premise that began my book.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered the TED talk by the doctor Peter Attia: Is the obesity crisis hiding a bigger problem?

https://www.ted.com/talks/peter_attia_what_if_we_re_wrong_about_diabetes

He began the talk by explaining how he had held an insulin resistant female patient he examined in contempt because he believed it was her fault she was fat. Three years later, he suddenly gained a lot of weight for no reason, he was diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome and became insulin resistant. That situation led him to question the relationship between obesity and insulin resistance and he became involved in researching the same. His research apparently helped him become the kind of doctor that I’ve been hoping to find for my daughter. He stated that, “I can’t afford the luxury of arrogance any more, let alone the arrogance of certainty.”

He also shared a dream that I wish would become a reality in the medical profession: “I dream of a day when … medical professionals shed our excess baggage and cure ourselves of new idea resistance sufficiently to go back to our original ideals—open minds and the courage to throw out yesterday’s ideas when they don’t appear to be working and the understanding that scientific truth isn’t final but constantly evolving…staying true to that path will be better for our patients and science.”

Of course I was crying at the end of the talk when he apologized to that female patient he had judged: “…As a human being I let you down. You didn’t need my judgment and my contempt. You needed my empathy and compassion and above all else you needed a doctor who was willing to consider that maybe you didn’t let the system down. Maybe the system, of which I was a part, was letting you down…”

If only more doctors would think that way.

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