AB: One aspect of my work week I particularly enjoy involves teaching at The Institute for Family Health in New York, a family medicine training program. I work with newly-minted family doctors, where we address different challenging patient scenarios. We also talk about their reactions to problematic doctor-patient interactions. At one of our seminars, the residents and I took on the thorny question of dealing with “difficult” patients. Specifically, we were responding to an intern’s presentation of an elderly male patient who specialized in being a pain in the neck. The patient, who had been admitted to the hospital with a variety of significant illnesses including end-stage kidney disease, became aggressive and “nasty” when any of the residents–or nurses–entered the room. Judging by the resident’s portrayal of this guy, it sounded like the patient had a lifetime’s experience driving people away. He was a professional.
As we talked, I remembered an article I read the previous day in The New York Times. Entitled “The Trick of Life”, author Akhil Sharma told of his torturous experience with writer’s block, and what he learned about the magic of “forgetting the self.” Sharma began to pray for others, developing an attitude totally different from the one which dominated his previous psychic landscape. His book ended up writing itself.
Sharma also talked about an interview he’d read with an actor who practiced saying (mentally) “I love you” to the person he was addressing when the relationship felt fraught and difficult. As the residents tossed around these ideas, our intern decided he would experiment with a mental “I love you” with this difficult patient. . I couldn’t help but notice that, for this young, doctor, he already seemed to enjoy this patient more, and to take himself a little less seriously. The intern seemed lighter and and freer when talking about his patient. Sometimes, indeed, healing begins with the doctor.
Check out Sharma’s compelling article: