horse and buggy doctor

Modern Medicine: Is This Really Progress?

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

I recently got a first hand tour of the modern medical world through the eyes of a group home resident who is a distant relative of mine. She needed assistance getting a day surgery procedure. Since she has no close family in Houston, I offered to accompany her the day of surgery. Members of her family had come to be with her when her doctor explained her test results, scheduled surgery and handled the pre-surgery details.

I offered to be with her the day of surgery and get her settled back at the group home when she was discharged. Sounds simple enough. Right? It wasn’t. She needed additional lab work before surgery which involved getting from one building to another, twice being sent away and told to come back later. This happened once because she didn’t have the right collection of information that they didn’t tell us she needed. Another time it was because one office couldn’t read the disc we’d been required to pick up in person from another office. We had to go back and get them to download it in a different format.

Through the Medical Maze

This woman is incapable of managing this on her own. After surgery she was too well to stay at the clinic, but not well enough to return to the group home. We are fortunate. We had the funds to stay with her in a hotel in the area over night. The next day she seemed to be doing great, so she returned to her group home. Three days later a post-op complication required a trip to the Emergency Room, and eventually admission to the hospital, followed by a transfer to a rehab center. I cannot imagine what would happen to this poor woman if she didn’t have any family or financial resources to provide for her. I expect she’d be one of the many who manage as best they can, living on the streets.

Once we cleared all the administrative hurdles, everyone on the medical teams we met was amazing. Every single one of them was patient, kind, understanding and compassionate. I can’t say enough for their efforts to make a challenging situation go as well as possible – once we cleared all the barriers to get to them.

“Talk to Your Doctor”

This week it was my turn to work my way through the maze that has become modern medicine. I needed a prescription. I sent a message requesting it via the doctor’s website. Amazingly, a nurse practitioner called me about it. I learned A) my doctor is moving to another city in a few weeks B) was not in that day and so would not be ordering me the prescription and C) the new doctor, who would take over her patients soon, might be willing to order the prescription. Great! He did.

The pharmacy I normally use didn’t have it. It would be available in five days. But, they could call it into another branch if that would be OK. That would be wonderful! I was heading out to have lunch with a friend practically next to that location.

However, that pharmacy couldn’t release the medication because they couldn’t interpret the doctor’s order for HOW I was supposed to take it. It took, literally, all afternoon and multiple phone calls from both me and the pharmacy – that all went into an automated voice mail system – to get that question answered.

I just love it when commercials tell us to, “Talk to your doctor.” Like that is actually ever possible. Have they ever tried to talk with a doctor? Calls are answered by automated phone services. The one I got entangled with assured me they’d call back within 48 hours; 24 hours if it was an emergency. Call me cynical, but I believe these systems are designed to be so frustrating we just gives up.

Old-fashioned Medical Care

My great grandfather was a doctor in rural Ohio a century ago. The following are excerpts from the diary of his daughter, my grandmother:

Sometimes Father would go horseback to the country. One time he went on Bess (horse.) He knew the country well and if he could cut across fields he could save so much time. Well, he came to a rail fence and got off his horse and went over the fence and turned to Bess to follow him. Bess went over and turned and jumped back and Father laughed when he told me.         

Father mixed a lot of his medicine or taught me how and then I put it up in capsules. The life of a family doctor’s something else. One night I answered the doorbell of the office (which was in the house) and as I opened the door a young man slipped in holding one hand wrapped in a burlap sack and blood dripping through. Father taught me to never get excited and to always listen to him and do just as he told me. It was a great experience and great help to me in later life.”

High Tech AND Human Touch

We’re obviously not going to revert back to those days. Yet, for all the modern technology we’ve introduced into the practice of medicine, I fear we’ve sacrificed the element of compassion and common sense that was once at the heart of medicine.

To paraphrase 1 Corinthians: If we have the most modern technology and techniques, but lack compassion, we have become noisy gongs and clanging cymbals that treat the bodies but abuse the spirits of those we seek to heal. We don’t have to choose between technology or human touch. We can have both. But first we have to decide that the human touch is worth preserving, even if we can’t figure out to make a profit from it.


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