Of Health & Healing: Part 3 of …

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.”

Mark 2:17 was the first verse of Scripture that I ever memorized. “Doctor Jesus” was the theme for the summer camp that I went to between sixth and seventh grade, and the camp “t-shirt” that year was a greenish-gray hospital scrub with a terrible drawing of Jesus in a doctor’s lab coat emblazoned on the back. The whole thing strikes me as more than a little hokey and silly in retrospect, but if I can still recall the verse they were trying to teach from 18 years later, then I guess it worked. Well played, Nazarene youth camp leaders. Well played.

My relationship with doctors has generally been unhealthy. There are very few kinds of authority in my life which I accept uncritically; I’m the kind of person who must question and understand everything. Unfortunately, most of the doctors I’ve had have been people who seemed to like patients who just do what they’re told—and in fairness to them, some patients like that. I don’t. I treat my health the same way I treated my wedding-planning: I listen very politely and considerately to what other people think I should do, and then I do whatever the hell I want. My wedding, my body, same diff. I’ll certainly give greater weight to the opinion of a doctor in regards to my health, but in the end, there is no such thing as “doctor’s orders” for me. The only people who get me to do what they want me to do are the ones who persuade me to see things their way.

As an example of this, I sliced my right Achilles tendon when I was 19, partially severing it. The doctors did not say much to me about the seriousness of my injury when I came into the emergency room; they slapped some kind of brace on it and told me to come back in the morning. When I came back the next day, I was a little shocked to learn that I was getting a cast, and that I wouldn’t be allowed to drive home. These things would have been nice to know before I came in all by myself.

I was told that the cast had to stay on for 10-14 days, and they made an appointment for its removal on day 14. But some people from my church were throwing a lake party on day 11, and I wanted to go wakeboarding. So on day 10, I spent a few hours in my father’s garage experimenting with various tools to see if I could remove the cast. I settled on a hacksaw.

Four days later, I walked into my follow-up appointment sans cast. The doctors were flabbergasted.

Them: “Where’s your cast?”

Me: “I removed it.”

Them: “With what?!”

Me: “A hacksaw.”

Them: (staring at me in shock)

Me: “My little brother and sister helped!”

Them: “Why did you do that?”

Me: “I wanted to go wakeboarding. I can’t wakeboard with a cast on.”

Them: “Do you not know how important your Achilles tendon is? You know, Achilles? The god guy?”

Me (the classics major): “He wasn’t a god. He was just near-invulnerable, and then only in later incarnations of the myth. And I wasn’t aware we should be taking anatomical cues from Greek mythology.”

If I had known then what I know now about the Achilles tendon, I never would have messed with that cast—not even for wakeboarding. But the doctors didn’t explain my injury to me, or the reasons for their course of treatment. They just slapped a cast on my leg and assumed I’d leave it alone.

Since my daughter’s birth, I have seen an awful lot of doctors, and the bad experiences have only multiplied. So many of them act like I’m too dumb to understand what’s going on with my daughter’s disabilities, brushing off my questions with laughs or dismissive answers. One time I took my daughter to the emergency room only to have the medical staff there completely lie about us to Child Protective Services. Because patients are sick and vulnerable and worried when we come to doctors, this kind of betrayal of trust can be really difficult to put behind us.

The bottom line is: I don’t dislike doctors. I think most of them are probably good people who genuinely want to help the sick. I think they put up with a lot of crap and get blamed for a lot of things that aren’t their fault, and I see the current malpractice system in America as one screwed-up enterprise.

But I don’t like it when I have to see a doctor. I would prefer it if we could just avoid one another. The only doctor I’m interested in seeing is this one right here:

Photo: BBC

Yet, in mid-August 2012, I found myself needing the more conventional kind.

To be continued.

Part 1
Part 2

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