Tuesday, October 2, 2012


In addition to my Psychology major, I decided to minor in English. For no good reason really, just because I liked reading and discussing literature and wanted to continue with it. There are few real requirements for a minor - a Brit Lit class here and there - but generally you get to choose from a range of courses. And that’s how I ended up enrolled in a literary non-fiction class. 

The books we’re reading this semester are truly fascinating - memoirs and essays that I likely wouldn’t have been aware of on my own and yet have really liked so far. As part of the course, a partner and I get to present one of the course books, and once I saw the medical book, ‘Complications’, I knew it’s what I wanted to do. (After all, what IBDer can resist a medical book?)

Then began the task of reading the book. It’s an accessible read, easy to get in to, but I found it very difficult to ‘get out’ of. Mid-way through the book I developed an aversion to it and the physician-based approach it took, a sentiment of ‘sewing the patient up’ and the patient being ‘a-okay’. What about the recovery, those days in the hospital with pain medication and walking laps around the nurses’ station? What about the months afterwards when you’re in between illness and health? What about the patient as an individual?

I know I read between the lines and perhaps gleaned things the author did not mean. Nonetheless, no matter how far I can physically get away from a hospital, I am a patient. I am a patient who knows that the best doctors are those who know what my major is and not just where my disease is, who know how to make me laugh and not just cry, who know my preferred ostomy products and not simply that I have an ostomy. The book made me feel uneasy and exchangeable - that patients were all just patients, a mass of individuals who blended together. And truthfully, that is not what the book said, it did speak of the unique qualities of patients, but in a dismissive quality that made me grimace.

And it makes me wonder - I want to be a clinician and a researcher, but if I can only see the patient in the mirror, what does that mean? I think what it means (after a lengthy self-reflection) is that I see my own experiences in others, regardless of age or disease, my identity as a patient is essential in being able to empathize with others. You can’t know what blueberry pie tastes like unless you’ve had it, you can’t know what it’s like to live with a chronic disease unless you have.

In the ever-wise words of Avril Lavigne, “Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?” I don’t regret reading the book for a moment because it gave me some insight to a physician’s way of thinking. If anything, perhaps, it makes me want to work harder so that we can understand patients as a whole and not just a sick organ.


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