Today would have been easier if I did not give a damn. Easier if patients were clients. Easier if medical advice was causal suggestion. Easier if I believed that patients were solely responsible for their health. Easier if suffering was not real. Much easier, if I did not care.
However, despite the popular movement from “the doctor knows best” towards shared decision-making, I feel responsible for my patients. What happens to them is very important to me. I mean this not as an objective definition of a doctors “job.” I am talking about the personal love of a caregiver for his community. Therefore, while I respect the freedom of each patient to control their own future, sometimes when they exercise that right it hurts.
First, there was my patient who received multi-agent complex chemotherapy and then vanished for three weeks. Despite severe mouth sores, fevers, rapid weight loss, numbness of his feet and daily vomiting, he did not call. He had attended chemo class, had received written instructions, and had at least six emergency phone numbers (and my email). Nonetheless, he did not reach out. On one occasion, one of my staff even spoke to him by phone and he did not mention the disaster. He just suffered and deteriorated. Now, I need to stop his treatment and can only try to salvage what remains of his frail health.