HOW PATIENTS AND CAREGIVERS TEACH MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS
By Sidney p. Kadish MD,
Schepp Scholar 1963-1967
It is now 10 months since I retired as a full-time radiation oncologist. I had served at various institutions for a total of 41 years. Now, I feel the need to kick back and reflect.
People often asked me, “How can you do this work? Isn’t it depressing?” But the answer to these questions has always been for me, “No! It is not depressing at all, and really, it has been curiously gratifying.”
How so? The first portion of this response has to do with being constantly surrounded by wonderful examples of Caring. I refer, first of all, to caring by medical professionals, of course. My doctor colleagues as well as nurses, therapists (technologists), and all the allied health people like social workers and nutritionists, are trained to care and are devoted to the patient from the beginning of their training. Simply watching the process of the delivery of (oncology) care is positively uplifting in this cynical world we live in.
But more than the practice of healthcare professionals, what touched me daily was the presence and actions of those unsung heroes, the caregivers. Lay people all, the wife or husband, the son or daughter, the neighbor, church volunteer, or even the divorced spouse, all demonstrated an unquestioning devotion, a dedication to the ill party. Whether the news was good or bad, whether the progress was up or down, I witnessed an inspiring display of caring on a daily basis. This devotion proceeded regardless of wealth, education, or social class. It was just plain person-to-person caring, a value that in many areas of our society is in short supply.
Yet the patient him/herself is not a passive vessel that is simply acted upon by the medical system and the family. i saw that in many if not most instances, the cancer diagnosis aroused in the patient a desire to put up the good Fight. Everyone knows that they are going to die, but most patients struggle and rage (internally) to extend life. This is true whether the patient has a curable disease, or even an incurable disease. Every patient wants to be around for their grandson’s graduation or their granddaughter’s wedding. It seems that the knowledge of malignancy itself releases energies of will and desire that are powerful and inspiring forces.
The cancer patient comes to appreciate the simplest things in life. The patient who can walk around the block, or rake the leaves in the yard is grateful for the progress they have made, and they teach us, the professionals, how we must never take simple acts of daily living for granted.
In short, I have learned so much from my patients, and have been inspired by them in many ways. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work in the field these many years.