Growing up I always believed in doctors knowing everything. Actually it was more like doctors were not human being only doctors and living in the hospital and that was all they did. For me this applied the same to dentists. One time going to the dentist for a morning appointment, and the dentist arriving in their street clothes looking normal actually made me nervous about my treatment that day.
How could someone that looked so normal carry out treatment on my teeth?
I was thinking about this today whilst I was visiting the doctor at the human hospital for my rabies booster.
By thinking of doctors like this it is possible to remove the fear from the visit as doctors knowing everything would prevent anything going wrong. Actually I started to realise that it wasn’t just thinking of them as doctors, we start to elevate them to gods and miracle workers. We need that hope to protect us from the fear of what is going to happen as when we go to hospital we are vulnerable and not in control.
We need that doctor to be in control – and to do this we need to elevate them to a superhuman status. Where we will be safe under their care, where they will not make a mistake, where they will fix any problem. We need to do this to trust them with our life, especially when it comes to surgery where we are absolutely helpless.
I then realised the same thing happened when I put on my scrubs and step into clinic. Especially when things go wrong – people look at you and expect you to have an answer.
Even when you don’t have an answer you have the responsibility of finding one. Sometimes it is logic, sometimes it is common sense, a lot of the time it is having support there from others and then sometimes it’s a combination of all three.
I remember the first time I was in this position was a couple of years ago. It was lunchtime and I was alone in recovery with a patient that had just come out of surgery, and there was the patient from the previous surgery whose owner was sitting with them whilst they recovered. The next thing I know the owner is saying something (I didn’t understand Slovak back then) however looking at the dog I see the eyes are flicking side to side.
I’ve no clue why however the first thing I do is check the breathing and heart. I see there are no muscle tremors. I’d read about nystagmus which is the random movement of eyes side to side, I thought this may be nystagmus, however I did not know why this dog had just started showing this. However I didn’t think that the dog was going die in the next few moments and my recovering anaesthesia patient was stable so I decided I had time to run to the staff room to get a doctor.
It was only a few minutes, however it felt like eternity. I had no clue what I was dealing with, I was not sure if it was even nystagmus. It turned out that it was positional nystagmus from the anaesthesia drugs that only happened because the dog was laid on its side. Knowing that my book knowledge was a little bit correct didn’t take away the feeling that I had got really lucky.
It was the first time that I felt like an imposter. Since then I’ve learnt that it is not just me that feels like this. Apparently it is a very common feeling that doesn’t completely go. No matter how much you learn, there is always more to keep learning. The really scary thing here is when you have something that you try to find out more about to only learn that there is no answer.
This is where you just start to realise just how human doctors really are. That no one has all the answers. Then you start to realise that doctors can make mistakes.
Then you realise that they really are no different to you, they are only human, people. Maybe they have studied a lot, maybe they have worked for many years…
The white coat or scrubs is almost a protective barrier to remove the human element. Remove this and they really are just another person.