Heal Thy Patient … Reflections on the Human Side of Medicine

Family Perspective


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Jerald Varner, PhD

The relationship and trust that we developed with Dr. Are made it easier and, at times, at all possible to carry the burden.… He is a great example of the kind of relationship that can and should exist between a doctor and patient.

—Jerald Varner, PhD

Dr. Are extended to me the opportunity to make additional comments about his article. I am the husband of the most wonderful Mrs. X he discusses. As always, Dr. Are’s comments are very kind and generous.

Three Roles

Based on my experience and observations, I would like to mention three roles a family member or friend may play in the care of a patient.

The first is in the role of helping a patient make decisions about the course of treatment. Because of medications or surgery, patients who need to make treatment decisions may not be at the top of their game, so to speak. To have another person listen to and evaluate information about treatment options can be helpful and reassuring to the patient. The old adage “two heads are better than one” comes to mind.

The second key role is to be involved in the logistics of actually caring for the patient. Little things such as making sure the water pitcher is full, getting snacks, running errands, and walking with the patient when indicated can make him or her more comfortable. Small kindnesses such as these, always done while being careful not to get in the way of the trained professional caregivers, can help the patient maintain a positive outlook and speed recovery.

The third role, and maybe the most important, is to be physically present with the patient. The hospital or caregiving setting can be unfamiliar, frightening, and intimidating to the patient. A familiar face and trusted companion can help allay patients’ anxieties and help them focus on the processes needed for their recovery. Very simply stated, this role is to be there for the patient.

Relationship and Trust

As Dr. Are has already indicated that the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer leaves the patient with very little if any hope. The 5-year survival rate for patients with pancreatic cancer is 6%, and from what my wife and I had heard, we were painfully aware that it was really only a question of how long.

After the diagnosis, we were referred to Dr. Are, who made it apparent at our first meeting and throughout the treatment course that he was genuinely concerned and cared about us. Yes, I did all the things mentioned with loving care for my wife, but it was Dr. Are who made me feel that I was part of the team. He made it very clear that the role I played and the things I did were very important in the care and treatment of my wife.

The relationship and trust that we developed with Dr. Are made it easier and, at times, at all possible to carry the burden. I still recall that after a grueling 9-hour surgery, Dr. Are took the time to sit down and talk with us. In the end, we could not change the outcome, but the journey to that end would have been much more difficult without our relationship with Dr. Are. He is a great example of the kind of relationship that can and should exist between a doctor and patient. That relationship continued after my wife died—not as a relationship between doctor and patient, but as a relationship between friends.

I am thankful that Dr. Are was present with us on our journey and is still a presence in my life. I also wish to thank him for allowing me to share in the writing of this article. ■


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Heal Thy Patient … Reflections on the Human Side of Medicine Physician Perspective

The first time I met Mrs. X and her husband was to discuss the surgical treatment options for pancreatic cancer. She had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at her local hospital and was being referred to a tertiary care center for operative management. Mrs. X and her husband were no...


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