Last week, I witnessed a miracle: My 80-year-old aunt's voice sounded cheerful for the first time in about a year. She's been in pain for at least that long and it's gotten progressively worse. It's so bad that she takes a cart at the supermarket even if she's only getting a couple itemsshe needs it to lean on. Much of the fun has gone out of the trips her active senior organization takes; she hurts too much to go at the active pace she once did.
So, why did she sound so good two weeks ago? She'd finally seen a doctor who believed that she was in pain. The treatment he prescribed won't begin for at least another week, but she felt incredibly relieved just knowing that someone understood what she was talking about. Someone believed her.
If you ever doubted that you have great power in your words and touch, please believe it. My aunt's case is just one example of the many people I've seen "healed" by the words of a physician. Not physically healed, but emotionally and spiritually.
You have the power to alleviate fear, instill hope, and help people relaxall of which can have helpful physical benefits as well as psychic ones. But you must recognize that you have that power and allow it to work.
I'm not talking only about cases of intractable pain, like my aunt's. But of the scores of patients you see each week with what often seems to you to be mundane ailments. Each of those physical problems carries a package of emotional ones with it. Is this rash contagious and could I have infected my husband? Do these funny lumps mean cancer? I have diabetesoh, no, I'll end up having my feet amputated like my grandmother!
You may never hear these fears or see them in your patients' eyes. But they're there and you can quiet them by simply acknowledging that they're there and providing what reassurance you can. And by believing your patient when she says it still hurts and working diligently at finding the cause.
I don't believe that the other doctors who treated my aunt were incompetent. I do believe they may not have taken the time to work her up properly, or were too quick to refer her.
I also believe that those doctors do not greet every patient they see realizing that they have the power to work miracles. Physicians of old realized it a lot more fully, I think, because they had little else to offer. You have the greater burden, though. You must always be vigilant lest you become a technological wizard and forget you're also a miracle worker.
Marianne Mattera. Memo from the Editor: Miracle worker. Medical Economics 2002;8:6.