There is a long established understanding in common culture that the role of a doctor is to fix things. And granted, there are a lot of things the medical community has become progressively equipped to accomplish. We can repair lacerations, we can remove cancerous tumors, we can open blocked arteries, we can treat infections, and by performing feats of this sort, lives can be saved. Which of course is why we chose this field as a career [Enter superhero theme: “Saving lives and stamping out disease!”].
In recent decades, despite the colloquial proclamation of “first, do no harm,” it has become increasingly apparent that doctors can also make mistakes that have severe repercussions. While medical errors have been shown to be the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S. (following just behind heart disease and cancer), they are not a new phenomenon so much as that the data is more thorough and public nowadays. So certainly don’t expect me to tell you that doctors can never hurt you, because we can, even though we certainly don’t want or intend to. It has happened for a long time, and while we are working hard to reduce its incidence, it will keep happening for a long time, too.
No, what a doctor can never do is make you healthy. We can provide you with information, pills, devices, and even personnel that have been carefully researched and developed to manage disease. But none of these tools, no matter how high the quality or the price tag, can actually give you health. Not even your closest friends and family have that capacity, either. The one and only person who can do that is you.
It is often said that “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.” I would personally argue that if you don’t care about your health, you don’t have anything. But I would add that the next, albeit most important, step in logic would be to articulate what it means to you to be healthy. The government and most societies/associations/institutes out there have a set of numbers that are meant to define the criteria of physical wellness. I certainly would never argue with the guidelines, but true health is so much greater than your fasting glucose and vitamin D levels.
As a physician, do I care about those numbers if you are my patient? Absolutely. But… not if you don’t care. Some might suspect it is my job to “fix” your mindset: to make you care. I disagree. My job is to start with understanding what you care about, because regardless of what happens in my office, I am not going home with you to make your day-to-day decisions for you. It is those day-to-day decisions that will carry you toward or away from a state of well-being, and they are going to be exclusively motivated by what you care about. If taking care of your own well-being is not a priority to you, there is no order I can write that will do it for you. The simple truth is that I cannot prescribe enough pain pills to take away the pain, enough antidepressants to make you happy, or tranquilizers to keep you calm. A peaceful, happy existence where you feel like you are in control of your life must – because it only can – originate within you. And if you want it, you can have it, regardless of your diagnosis. The fact that you have a condition does not necessarily mean you have to suffer from it.
In summary: my job as your doctor is first to encourage you as you realize that the power to be well is already yours; then to provide all the tools at my disposal to help you do it. I repeat: to help YOU. DO. IT. I will never be the author of your wholeness, my job is merely to play a supporting role.
Stay tuned to read about what I am convinced is Step One to managing your life and health. For many of you, taking this step can be life-changing – I have seen it happen. See you soon.